Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


School of Psychology


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Supervisor

Dr David Ryder

Second Supervisor

Dr Moira O'Connor


The phenomenon of achieving long-term abstinence from drug use remains to be thoroughly understood in the alcohol and other drug (AOD) community, particularly in the area of heroin use. This review assesses research in the field of long-term abstinence from drug use and highlights the need to examine long-term abstinence from heroin use. Prochaska and DiClemente's (1986) Stages of Change model of behaviour change is examined as well as literature examining its importance in the AOD field. Studies examining long-term abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, cocaine and heroin use are reviewed from a psychological perspective, focusing on cognitive-behavioural constructs. Findings revealed a number of similarities in the mechanisms or factors associated with achieving long-term abstinence. High self-efficacy, developing sober or abstinent social networks, having support structures in one's life and utilising cognitive and behavioural coping strategies were factors found to be common across a number of drugs. In comparison to alcohol, tobacco and cocaine use, limited research exists on long-term abstinence from heroin use. In studies that are available, a majority focus on describing the demographic and treatment characteristics of this population. It is concluded that future research needs to explore individuals' subjective reasons or motivations for long-term abstinence from heroin use. Dependency upon heroin is a pervasive and long-lasting affliction which is associated with considerable harms and risks. It has been estimated that over a 20-year period only one third of all dependent heroin users will become abstinent, leaving that part of their life behind. Despite this, limited research has endeavoured to understand the motivating factors which support an individual to give up and abstain from heroin use, long-term. This qualitative study therefore aimed to explore the motivations for individual's long-term heroin abstinence using a social constructivist framework In order to provide a holistic account of this phenomenon and the processes involved in achieving long-term abstinence, participants' journey with heroin use was also explored. Seven participants, five male and two females, who had abstained from heroin use for a period of at least 2 years were interviewed using an in-depth interview schedule. Using content analysis, six themes emerged that were central to participants journey with heroin use and the achievement of long-term heroin abstinence: 'experience of heroin use'; 'developing a dependency upon heroin'; ' experiencing the impact of heroin use'; 'realisation of addiction'; 'decisions to stop heroin use'; 'achieving long-term abstinence'. The research found that participants constructed their motivations for long-term abstinence in unique and diverse ways. Motivations for long-term abstinence included employment, family or commitment to children, removing oneself from drug using environments, treatment, personal motivators and wanting to lead a normal life. The study has implications for treatment providers and health professionals regarding the improvement of treatment services and the promotion of long-term abstinence.