How do people stop?

Recovery begins when you start to think your life might be better without opioids.

It is normal to want to stop using one day and then feel unsure the next. But, even people who are certain they no longer want the daily grind of getting drugs, using drugs, and watching drugs damage their lives and health usually can’t just walk away. Quitting is tough.

Most people need a plan of action and support. A plan of action often includes some type of professional treatment. Recovery support may come from family or friends, and recovering people in the community, at meetings or support groups.

Research shows that when people include a prescribed medication used to treat addiction as part of their recovery plan, their chances of success increase. This doesn’t mean medication is right for everyone. People also recover from opioid use disorder without medication. But, it is important information for anyone looking at treatment options.

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Reducing or stopping compulsive alcohol and drug use is a key part of addiction recovery. Medication provides one of the most effective ways to help people stop opioid use, and break the cycle of addiction. For some, achieving abstinence marks the beginning of their recovery. For others, recovery is a process.

There are many different pathways to recovery, and what works for one person may not work for another. Each person finds their individual path. One definition of recovery is “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” Input from more than 2,000 people helped to identify four key things that support a life in recovery: health, home, purpose, and community.

  • Health: Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms, for example—and for everyone in recovery—making informed choices that support physical and emotional wellness.
  • Home: A stable and safe place to live.
  • Purpose: Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors.
  • Community: Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.


Counseling for addiction often begins by talking with a helping professional about drug use, the problems it has caused, and ways to overcome those problems. It helps to find a counselor with whom you feel comfortable. Research shows that people do better when they have a good relationship with their counselor.

Counselors have different ways of working. For example, counseling can be individual or in group settings. Counselors can encourage and support people as they deal with day-to-day stress and setbacks, providing them with the tools they need to build a life in recovery.

Most counseling for addiction includes some or all of the following:

  • Education about addiction and its effects.
  • Support and guidance to reduce or eliminate substance use.
  • Help to identify and cope with stressful life issues.
  • HIV risk reduction counseling, access to confidential testing, and hepatitis screening.
  • Help to develop ways to prevent and manage setbacks.
  • Referral to resources in the community, such as peer support groups, housing, and faith-based groups.

Individual counseling may include setting goals, talking about setbacks, and celebrating progress. It may also include discussing legal concerns and family problems.

Group counseling can help people feel that they are not alone with their issues. In groups, you can hear about the difficulties and successes of others dealing with the same challenges. This helps people learn strategies to deal with situations they may encounter.

Family counseling includes parents, partners or spouses, children, siblings, or others who are close to you. It is up to you to decide if family members should be involved in treatment and who should participate. When there is a history of violence in the family, counseling should not include anyone with whom you do not feel safe.

Treatment Programs

Treatment programs are structured, often intensive, time-limited services for dealing with addiction. Programs may be outpatient, daily, weekly, residential, or even hospital-based. Most programs help you learn about addiction and find new ways to deal with life. Some programs include detoxification and follow-up counseling or support. But, detoxification alone is not considered treatment.

Treatment usually includes an assessment that allows the staff to understand how severe your problem is and to help create an effective personal treatment plan with you. Treatment helps identify thought patterns and belief systems that cause problems. It also helps you to recognize high-risk situations and practice new ways of thinking and acting.

Treatment programs may specialize in different kinds of addictions such as marijuana, opioids, alcohol, or gambling. There are programs for just men, women, adolescents, or other groups. Some treatment programs last for a few weeks; others last for many months.

Outpatient programs have the benefit of offering treatment services in the community. They may offer MAT, as well as counseling and other support services. Residential programs combine housing and treatment services in a living situation where peers support each other to stay in recovery. Hospital-based programs may offer both inpatient and outpatient programs that combine health care and addiction treatment services for people with medical problems.


Prescribed medications can help control cravings and manage withdrawal. They can also help people manage recovery from opioid use disorder over the long haul. The decision of how long to take medication is a personal choice that you make with your support team (doctor, peer support, family, friends, or counselor).

Research shows that generally, people need to be treated for at least 90 days in order to benefit from addiction treatment. People in medication-assisted treatment who continue for a year or more have the best results. Stopping medication early increases the risk of returning to opioid use. People in long-term maintenance treatment for opioid use disorder should be periodically assessed for their ongoing medication needs.

WARNING: Given the high risk of overdose with return to opioid use, decisions about stopping medication should be made carefully and in consultation with your doctor or treatment provider.


Recovery supports are the people, places, and things that help people stop using drugs and alcohol and begin a life in recovery. Different people find different things supportive. Successful recovery depends on finding and using the supports that work best for you.

Recovery support can include transitional housing, employment services, medical care, mental health treatment, childcare, transportation, and other types of services and resources that allow people to move forward in recovery. Sometimes, recovery support includes finding a faith group that inspires you, getting involved sports and leisure activities, or even giving back to the community.

Recovery Community

A recovery community is a network of people living with common goals and a common interest in supporting recovery. They often unite in efforts to end stigma and discrimination against people in addiction recovery and increase access to prevention and treatment. They also offer support to others new to recovery or struggling to overcome addiction.

Peer support groups are a key aspect of most recovery communities. They are not run by professionals, but by people who “have been there.” They offer support through shared experiences and practical strategies for dealing with day-to-day challenges. These groups are in most communities. The most well-known are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Some people in medication-assisted treatment have felt out of place in certain groups. Many communities now have mutual aid and peer support groups specifically for people with these concerns. A growing number of organizations, led by people in recovery, support all pathways to recovery, even when medication is a part of the journey. Some groups, such as Methadone Anonymous, are specifically geared toward people in medication-assisted recovery. Recovery Community Centers offer peer support and opportunities to socialize with others in recovery. For more information about these groups and other recovery options, visit the National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery at A comprehensive guide to self-help/mutual aid options can be found here.


I know people stop without medication, but sometimes I really want to use again.