There are few things more terrifying to a parent than finding out that your son or daughter is using heroin. But if you’re going to get through this devastating development, you need to find a way out of the panic. Your fear is valid, but in the long run, it won’t solve these problems.

How do you get out of your state of panic so you can help your loved one with a heroin problem? You’re going to need some of the perspective that I have about heroin. I have been studying addiction and substance use for more than a decade, and I once had a horrible problem with heroin myself that brought me in and out of several treatment programs and even landed me in jail. I’ve been heroin-free for over 16 years; I don’t crave it, and I don’t fear it because I know firsthand that heroin use is not a death sentence, nor does it need to become a lifelong struggle. Of course, I can’t magically transfer the confidence I gained from my personal experience into your mind, but I can give you the facts.

The Facts About Heroin

Believe it or not, people get over their addictions to heroin, and all other opioids at extremely high rates, and faster than most people get over their alcohol addictions. 50% of people get over their alcohol use disorders within 14 years – while 50% of people with opioid use disorders get over them within 5 years, and this is all despite the fact that only a minority get treatment.

In the 1970s, when tens of thousands of veterans developed heroin addictions in Vietnam, most recovered quickly. Only 12% relapsed within the first 3 years back from the war, and in the long run, 96% fully recovered. Epidemiological data collected in 2002 found that almost 89% of people who ever had heroin addictions were currently recovered, and that the probability of eventual recovery from opioid addiction was 96%. This is higher than the probability of recovery from alcohol use disorders, which is 90%.

Unfortunately, there is also currently an overdose surge, and this is bad news. However, depending on which government estimate of the number of opioid addicts that you use, the annual rate of fatal overdoses for opioid addicts is either 1% or 2%. In any case, this means that in a given year, at least 98% of opioid addicts will survive. This means opioid addiction is not an immediate death sentence, and when combined with the high/quick rate of recovery, it means the odds are tremendously in favor of surviving and overcoming opioid addiction.

Still, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about, or that having a child with a heroin use problem is not a nightmare. But hopefully these facts can help you find a balance between your concern, and a faith that your loved one can and will get over their problem. When a person with a substance use problem is surrounded by panic and fear, they tend to dive deeper into substance use. When they see that you’ve lost all hope, they may be more prone to lose hope themselves. They need you to believe in them. They need to believe there is life after heroin. I was shown this by the folks at The Freedom Model Retreats 16 years ago, and it helped me to develop the motivation to change. My parents believed I could do it too. The Freedom Model for Addictions is focused on helping people to develop the belief that they can find greater happiness when they let go of destructive patterns of substance use.