BACKGROUND: Alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems are commonly depicted as chronically relapsing, implying multiple recovery attempts are needed prior to remission. Yet, although a robust literature exists on quit attempts in the tobacco field, little is known regarding patterns of cessation attempts related to alcohol, opioid, stimulant, or cannabis problems. Greater knowledge of such estimates and the factors associated with needing fewer or greater attempts may have utility for health policy and clinical communication efforts and approaches.
METHODS: Cross-sectional, nationally representative survey of U.S. adults (N = 39,809) who reported resolving a significant AOD problem (n = 2,002) and assessed on number of prior serious recovery attempts, demographic variables, primary substance, clinical histories, and indices of psychological distress and well-being.
RESULTS: The statistical distribution of serious recovery attempts was highly skewed with a mean of 5.35 (SD = 13.41) and median of 2 (interquartile range [IQR] = 1 to 4). Black race, prior use of treatment and mutual-help groups, and history of psychiatric comorbidity were associated with higher number of attempts, and more attempts were associated independently with greater current distress. Number of recovery attempts did not differ by primary substance (e.g., opioids vs. alcohol).
CONCLUSIONS: Estimates of recovery attempts differed substantially depending on whether the mean (5.35 recovery attempts) or median (2 recovery attempts) was used as the estimator. Implications of this are that the average may be substantially lower than anticipated because cultural expectations are often based on AOD problems being "chronically relapsing" disorders implicating seemingly endless tries. Depending on which one of these estimates is reported in policy documents or communicated in public health announcements or clinical settings, each may elicit varying degrees of help-seeking, hope, motivation, and the use of more assertive clinical approaches. The more fitting, median estimate of attempts should be used in clinical and policy communications given the distribution.
KEYWORDS: Alcohol Use Disorder; Opioid Use Disorder; Quit Attempts; Recovery; Remission