• Phenomenology of relapse and lived experience among female opiate addicts

      McAlpine, Catherine Patricia; Saltz, Constance Corley (1995)
      Addiction to heroin and other opiates is a complex, multi-faceted problem that is considered to be resistant to treatment interventions. Addicts use greater quantities of drugs more frequently than social users and are more severely impaired as shown by related social, legal, and interpersonal problems. These individuals consume a disproportionate share of available treatment resources. Traditional approaches to treatment are not effective in maintaining sobriety among chronic addicts. Available information on substance abuse has focused on the experience of men. Little is known of women's experiences as addicts and how societal responses to female addicts differ from those of men. Data on prevalence, differences in progression and consequences of addiction by gender are limited. There is a need for greater intervention into the psychological, social and community systems of the addict's drug use and behavior patterns to promote post-treatment abstinence. The purpose of this study was to identify characteristics of women who are chronic opiate addicts and to explore psychological, social, and life experiences which inhibit abstinence and adaptation to recovery. Data were collected through a series of intensive interviews with four female opiate addicts. The potential for linking understanding of addiction recovery as a psychological process which incorporates predictable phases and transitions of identity with the prevention of relapse is explored. Theories of crisis, loss and grief focus on resolution of the experience as an essential and final phase of the transformation process. Promotion of full retirement from active addiction and acceptance of a sober lifestyle may be enhanced by such a theoretical model. Implications of the study address the potential for more effective and population-specific models of assessment, intervention, and treatment retention for high-risk, hard to reach populations of chronic addicts. The key factors appear to be a sufficient length of time to accomplish this transition and a belief in the ultimate success of such an effort.