Research has enhanced our understanding of opioid misuse prevalence and consequences, but few studies have examined recovery from opioid problems. Estimating national recovery prevalence and characterizing individuals who have resolved opioid problems can inform policy and clinical approaches to address opioid misuse.
We conducted a cross-sectional investigation of a nationally-representative sample of US adults who reported opioid problem resolution (OPI). For reference, OPI was compared with an alcohol problem resolution group (ALC). Analyses estimated OPI/ALC prevalence, differences in treatment/recovery service use, and psychological well-being, within 2 recovery windows: <1 year (early recovery) and 1 to 5 years (mid-recovery) since OPI/ALC problem resolution.
Of those who reported alcohol or drug use problem resolution, weighted problem resolution prevalence was 5.3% for opioids (early recovery 1.2%, mid-recovery 2.2%) and 51.2% for alcohol (early recovery 7.0%, mid-recovery 11.5%). In mid-recovery, lifetime use of formal treatment, pharmacotherapy, recovery support services, mutual help, and current pharmacotherapy were more prevalent in OPI than ALC. Service utilization did not differ between early-recovery OPI and ALC. Common services used by OPI included inpatient treatment (37.8%) and state/local recovery organizations (24.4%) in mid-recovery; outpatient treatment (25.7%) and recovery community centers (27.2%) in early recovery; Narcotics Anonymous (40.2%–57.8%) and buprenorphine-naloxone (15.3%–26.7%) in both recovery cohorts. Regarding well-being, OPI reported higher self-esteem than ALC in early recovery, and lower self-esteem than ALC in mid-recovery.
An estimated 1.2 million American adults report resolving an opioid problem. Given the service use outcomes and longer-term problem resolution of mid-recovery OPI, early-recovery OPI may require encouragement to utilize additional or more intensive services to achieve longer-term recovery. OPI beyond recovery-year 1 may need enhanced support to address deficient self-esteem and promote well-being.