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Can a Drug Addict Fully Recover?

Addiction recovery is rarely easy, but always possible. Most people recover eventually with enough time and effort. However, addiction is a lifelong condition, and there is no cure. Recovery involves controlling impulses to use drugs, so a person can stay sober. They may still experience cravings for drugs throughout life, and they’ll need to stay vigilant to avoid relapse.

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Can an Addict Fully Recover?

Full addiction recovery is very possible, though it is challenging. Some people who have previously struggled with addiction completely recover to the point where they rarely, if ever, think about the drug they had previously used and don’t experience drug cravings.

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Importantly, this level of recovery isn’t usually the end goal of addiction treatment programs, as it is difficult to get to that point and it can rely on factors outside of your control. Instead, the goal is to get an individual to a place where they can resist the temptation to misuse drugs, even if they still experience those temptations. Ultimately, recovery helps them to remain sober indefinitely. 

This level of recovery, while still not easy to achieve, is a more realistic goal and one that allows a person who is struggling with addiction to live a full and productive life. Substance use disorders are chronic conditions, but they don’t need to control an individual’s life.

Key Facts About Addiction & Recovery

  • Despite the notoriety surrounding addiction relapses, people treated for substance use disorders actually have a lower rate of relapse back into disordered symptoms compared to people with other chronic conditions, such as hypertension and asthma.
  • Medication can often help treat addiction. If recommended and prescribed by a professional, this can be a vital part of the recovery process. For example, buprenorphine or methadone may be recommended to treat opioid use disorder.
  • Addiction recovery is a spectrum. Even if you do relapse or have otherwise yet to achieve full sobriety, actively working toward recovery can help to improve your physical and mental health. Relapse is often simply just part of the journey to sustained recovery.
  • When in recovery, be careful if you do relapse, as your tolerance for drugs can be reduced with sobriety, meaning a previously “normal” dose may now have a stronger effect on you and may even cause an overdose.

Can Addiction Be Treated Successfully?

Drug addiction is a serious occurrence that can and has destroyed human lives. At the same time, most people in the United States, and likely most people in general, actually recover from addiction and live full and healthy lives. The recovery process is often very difficult and may involve multiple relapses, but the end result is well worth the effort.

In short, addiction can be treated successfully. The more determined a person is to recover and the better access to recovery resources they have, the more likely they are to recover. 

Unfortunately, racial bias has been shown to make finding treatment harder for Black and Hispanic Americans. Limited access to treatment resources is also more common in rural areas, although online treatment options are also sometimes available.

Addiction is complex, and it’s important not to oversimplify the issue. Each person’s situation is unique. The landscape they exist in, both in terms of the drugs they have access to and the treatment resources they can get, also plays an important role in recovery. However, most people do recover from addiction.

Is Addiction Curable?

No, there is no cure for addiction. Recovering from addiction is not considered the same thing as being cured of addiction. 

While many non-experts use these terms interchangeably, being “cured” would mean a person is at more or less the same risk of misusing drugs as the average individual who never abused drugs and that thinking about drug use is no longer a regular concern. This happens but isn’t typical. 

Substance use disorders are considered chronic mental health conditions, meaning they aren’t expected to go away, even with treatment. However, it’s possible to help a person stop using and avoid using drugs in the future with adequate treatment, even if they have developed a substance use disorder. 

If a person can’t imagine living a full life without stopping their drug use or otherwise can’t stop misusing drugs despite seeing the consequences of that use, addiction treatment can absolutely help them and may well end up saving their life. 

What Percentage of Drug Addicts Recover?

One study found that 75 percent of adults who report ever having had a substance use problem report being in recovery. Receiving treatment for a substance use problem was associated with recovery, meaning that treatment made it more likely that a person would consider themself in recovery.

Importantly, this is an average. Your personal chance of recovery, if you struggle with addiction, can be impacted by factors both in and outside your control. Dedicating yourself to recovery and continuing recovery, even if you experience roadblocks (such as a relapse) can improve your personal chance of recovery.

Factors That Affect Recovery

These factors can affect your recovery journey:

Past Traumas

Trauma, especially childhood trauma, is known to correlate with substance use problems and can also cause other mental health issues that may complicate treatment. 

For example, traumatic experiences (such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse) can cause a person to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which will also need to be treated for a person to have the best chance of recovering from addiction. 

People who experience trauma may turn to drugs to try to drown out the pain of that trauma. In treatment, they will need to find healthier outlets to deal with that pain.

Unhealthy Comparisons

It’s important not to overly compare one’s experience with addiction and recovery to other people, as addiction is highly personal. Even people engaging in similar levels of drug use and with similar body types may have wildlfy different experiences with addiction. 

If you’re struggling more than someone else you know is, that doesn’t mean that you’re “losing.” It means your personal journey is different, and the level of care you need is also likely different. 

Acceptance & Stigma

Stigma surrounding addiction can be deeply harmful to the recovery process, with some people who need help for their addictions feeling ostracized. 

Stigma has at times caused people to receive substandard care or even be outright rejected from treatment. People dealing with addiction can also internalize this stigma, feeling shame, refusing to seek treatment, and further seeing a worsening of their mental health.

Acceptance can make recovery easier. Accepting addiction for what it is (a chronic mental health condition) means that people are more likely to help with the treatment process, support treatment facilities in their community, and generally help those in need.  

If you struggle with addiction and have experienced stigma surrounding addiction, remember that the facts are on your side. Even if you can’t get people in your life to understand, there are treatment experts who can help you. Addiction is a disease, and it’s one that can be treated successfully.

Evidence-Based Treatment

Any addiction treatment should be based on scientific evidence. Addiction treatment science is always advancing, and new techniques that work better or help in different ways get developed. At the same time, some unscrupulous companies make claims about treatments that aren’t based on research, and they may make promises they can’t keep. 

When seeking treatment, make sure you only choose reputable treatment providers that use proven techniques that have been shown to help people recover.

Medications to Help With Recovery

Depending on the drugs a person struggles with, medications can sometimes help the recovery process. Some medications treat symptoms, such as anti-nausea medications to address common withdrawal symptoms, while other medications more directly help the recovery process. 

Some common treatment medications include the following:

  • Tobacco: nicotine replacement products
  • Alcohol: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram
  • Opioids: methadone and buprenorphine

While not all drugs people can become addicted to have medications approved to treat those addictions, this subject is generally a heavy topic of research. Some promising results for stimulant addiction and cannabis addiction are being explored, and it is likely we will see medications approved for treating these addictions in the future.

Drug Addiction Recovery FAQs

How long does it take to recover from addiction?

There isn’t a set timeline. Recovery duration will vary according to each person and the drugs they struggle with. 

Combating addiction often involves going through acute withdrawal and then a longer, less severe recovery stage. For many drugs, this initial withdrawal period can take a week or more, followed by a longer period of withdrawal that may last multiple weeks or months. 

After detox, it is about working to channel the feelings that previously drew you to drugs in healthier ways, which therapy and counseling can help you practice. Recovery is a lifelong process, but more intense care for addiction recovery generally takes several months.

Does life get better after addiction?

Yes. There’s almost no set of circumstances in which being addicted to a substance is better than recovering from that addiction. 

Addiction involves the repeated use of substances that are often expensive and almost always detrimental to physical and mental health. While addiction recovery can be hard and stressful, recovering from addiction means that you will regain control over your life and can work toward a fuller, brighter future.

How long does it take to get back to normal after recovery?

This depends on a person’s definition of “normal,” the drugs they struggle with, and how well they take to addiction recovery. If a person’s “normal” is never thinking about drug use and experiencing no impulse to use drugs even when under immense stress or in the presence of drugs, they may never recover to that degree. 

However, a person can recover to the point where, in those circumstances, they feel the impulse to use drugs and are still able to choose not to and make healthier choices. But exactly how long that takes is going to highly depend on the person and their situation.

Many people return to a “normal” life within a few months. For others, it may take years. But growth is gradual and ongoing, so most people experience significant improvements in the first few months of recovery.

Updated January 19, 2024
Resources
  1. Treatment and Recovery. (July 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  2. There Is Life After Addiction. Most People Recover. (January 2022). NPR.
  3. Prevalence and Correlates of Ever Having a Substance Use Problem and Substance Use Recovery Status Among Adults in the United States, 2018. (September 2020). Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
  4. Substance Use, Childhood Traumatic Experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an Urban Civilian Population. (December 2010). Depression and Anxiety.
  5. Addressing the Stigma that Surrounds Addiction. (April 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  6. Medications for Substance Use Disorders. Medications for Substance Use Disorders. (September 2013). Social Work in Public Health.
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