Heroin Recovery Timeline: Models For Heroin Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 6, 2021

The timeline for achieving recovery from heroin addiction doesn’t look the same for everyone. Recovering from the effects of addiction can take some time, while the process of recovery itself can be a lifelong journey.

Heroin Recovery Timeline

Achieving recovery from heroin addiction is a long-term process that requires patience, compassion, and an open mind to the rewards and challenges that lie ahead.

The timeline for heroin recovery doesn’t look the same for everyone. Achieving full recovery from the effects of living with addiction may take months, or years.

Many substance use experts describe recovery as a lifelong journey. While the effects of addiction can heal over time, choosing recovery each day is an ongoing, long-term process.

Learn more about the heroin recovery process

Different Models For The Recovery Timeline

Researchers and health experts have developed several models to help explain what the process of recovery from heroin addiction might look like.

Not every model addresses the unique experiences each person can have on their recovery journey.

It’s normal for someone’s actual experience in recovery to occur in a way that is less linear or doesn’t neccesarily match up with what a proposed timeline for recovery describes.

Four-Stage Model Of Heroin Addiction Recovery

One of the common models used to describe the process of addiction recovery is the four-stage model. This model was developed by researchers with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Stage 1: Treatment Initiation

The first stage of recovery in this model is beginning addiction treatment. This occurs over the first few days of deciding to seek treatment and beginning a rehab program.

Length: First few days of seeking treatment

Stage 2: Early Abstinence

Early abstinence is a stage of recovery that involves undergoing the initial discomfort and challenges that can accompany early recovery.

Characteristics of this stage can include:

  • heroin withdrawal symptoms
  • difficulty sleeping
  • anxiety
  • having cravings for heroin
  • feeling ambivalent about recovery

Through outpatient counseling or a rehab program, individuals can learn effective coping strategies for managing challenges in early recovery, including heroin cravings.

Length: First 90 days of beginning treatment

Stage 3: Maintaining Abstinence

After overcoming the initial hurdles in the stage of early abstinence, the next challenge is maintaining recovery over the long-term.

This stage may begin after the completion of an inpatient or residential rehab program, which lasts 30 to 90 days on average.

Characteristics of this stage include:

  • continuing treatment
  • attending community-based support groups
  • rebuilding a healthy life in recovery
  • making amends
  • utilizing coping skills for challenges in recovery

During this time a person may begin searching for employment, return to work, or identify other hobbies or activities to instill structure in their day-to-day life.

Length: First few years of recovery

Stage 4: Advanced Recovery

Advanced recovery is the final and longest stage of the recovery process. It is at this stage that a person has maintained their recovery for a few years.

People who have reached this stage are generally more confident and comfortable in their recovery.

They have set long-term goals for themselves and feel confident in their ability to use coping skills to manage new or existing challenges as they arise.

Length: Five+ years of recovery

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Stages Of Change Heroin Addiction Recovery Model

Another common model used to describe the timeline for heroin addiction recovery is the Stages of Change model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, developed in the 1970s.

This model was originally developed to describe the experience of people who were trying to quit smoking nicotine, but is sometimes used to describe recovery from other drugs as well.

Stage 1: Precontemplation

Precontemplation is a stage characterized by the initial desire to change one’s behaviors. For instance, having the first inkling of wanting to stop using heroin and to seek treatment.

Stage 2: Contemplation

In this second stage, a person becomes more aware of how their addiction is affecting their lives, including the lives of their loved ones. They begin seriously considering seeking professional help.

Stage 3: Preparation

In this third stage, a person may begin seeking out an addiction treatment program or try to stop using heroin on their own.

They might also begin mentally preparing themselves for what the process of beginning treatment will feel and look like.

Stage 4: Action

The fourth stage involves taking action to change one’s drug use behavior. Generally, this will mean beginning an inpatient or outpatient addiction rehab program.

Common forms of heroin rehab include:

  • inpatient rehab
  • outpatient counseling
  • medication-assisted treatment
  • group therapy

Stage 5: Maintenance

After taking action to stop using heroin, the next stage of the addiction recovery process is maintaining abstinence.

During this time, a person may continue attending counseling, taking medication, or attending support groups in recovery.

Maintaining recovery is a lifelong process. While early recovery can often feature more significant challenges—such as cravings for heroin and external triggers—overcoming these hurdles generally becomes easier with time and ongoing support.

Heroin Recovery Timeline FAQs

Having questions about heroin recovery is normal. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the timeline for heroin addiction recovery.

❓ How Long Does It Take To Recover From A Heroin Addiction?

✔️ The length of time it takes to recover from a heroin addiction isn’t the same for everyone.

Various factors—including the duration of a person’s heroin use, and the severity—can affect how long it takes to feel comfortable in the ‘new normal’ of recovery.

For some people, this can take a few months of intensive treatment. For others it can take years. Recovery is an ongoing process of personal growth, healing, and exploration.

❓ What’s The Timeline For Heroin Addiction Recovery?

✔️ There is no fixed timeline for heroin addiction recovery.

A person’s progress in recovery is subject to their commitment to recovery, the severity of their illness, and the level of support they have during the recovery process.

❓ What Factors Can Affect The Timeline For Heroin Recovery?

✔️ Various factors can influence a person’s progress in their recovery journey.

For instance, the following factors can affect how long it takes for someone to recover from heroin addiction:

  • whether a person seeks professional treatment
  • the type of treatment received
  • level of familial or social support
  • personal motivation to recover
  • duration of a person’s addiction
  • severity of the addiction
  • effects of the addiction on a person’s health
  • access to aftercare support
  • access to stable employment and housing
  • receiving treatment for co-occurring disorders

No one is immune to having setbacks or experiencing challenges in recovery. Recovery isn’t a cookie-cutter process. It doesn’t look or play out the same for everyone.

❓ What Is The Timeline For Heroin Withdrawal?

✔️ Withdrawal is a common concern among people who either want to stop heroin or have tried unsuccessfully in the past to quit.

The acute phase of heroin withdrawal can last five to seven days, or up to a week. During this time, a person may become physically sick and have strong cravings to use heroin.

After one week, most symptoms of withdrawal go away, but some may linger. Cravings for heroin, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, or depression may linger for months or even years after stopping heroin.

Learn more about heroin withdrawal

❓ What Is The Heroin Recovery Process?

✔️ Recovery is a process of getting better from an illness. This is a process of physical healing, psychological healing, growth, and opportunity.

When it comes to addiction, recovery generally refers to a process of seeking help for addiction and learning how to build a life that is supportive to one’s health and happiness.

Begin Your Journey Toward Heroin Recovery Today

Addiction recovery doesn’t have a fixed timeline. Nor does it feel or look the same for everyone.

Recovery is a lifelong journey. Your timeline is yours to create, edit, and adapt according to your personal needs and progress.

Begin the journey towards recovery today. Call our helpline to learn more about addiction recovery and to find addiction treatment for heroin near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 6, 2021
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