Overcoming Addiction Is Possible: Study
The general perception about addiction to substances like illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco is that once someone is hooked, there is little hope for quitting. Those who initiate drug use are certainly introducing a host of potential problems, including health issues as well as financial, relationship and employment difficulties.
A new study, however, illustrates that there is reason to believe that any addiction can be overcome over time. While the time varies in individual cases, the results provide evidence that the average number of people coming out of addiction at any given point in time remains steady when compared with the total of people addicted at any given time (Heyman, 2013).
The study also shows that the number of addicts who have successfully overcome their addiction increases progressively over time, and the time spent dependent on the substance is not predictive of the ability to quit.
Researchers examined the rates of remission among users of marijuana, cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes, according to information taken from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.
Remittance was defined as a person who self-describes previously meeting diagnostic criteria for addiction to a particular substance but had not met those criteria in the past year.
The researchers wanted to measure the cumulative likelihood of remission (the percentage of those surveyed who had entered remission) and the amount of time in years since the onset of dependence. The team also sought to determine the simplest possible mathematical relationship between years of dependence and cumulative rates of remission.
In order to do this, Heyman established formulations for the rate of eventual remitting participants and the percentage of additional individuals who remit each year. The researchers found that for the four drugs examined, the data matched the equations developed for exponential decay.
The likelihood that an individual would eventually stop using a substance, if given enough time, was 100 percent for cigarettes, 98 percent for cocaine, 95 percent for alcohol, and 94 percent for marijuana.
There were significant differences noted in the time measured to reach remission. The half-life for cocaine dependence (the time required for half of the people to cease being dependent) was four years, versus six, 16 and 30 years for marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes, respectively.
The authors note that some limitations must be taken into account when reviewing the results, such as the use of self-reporting to gather information. The respondents may not have accurately remembered their past use or may have exaggerated or underrepresented key details or facts.
The rate of remission remained constant, despite varying lengths of time spent dependent. This was one of the more surprising study findings, supporting the idea that the addiction state can be altered in many ways. Even simply moving to a new location and forming new friendships may encourage addicts to quit using a substance.