Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Medical Doctor (MD)



First Advisor

Larry Davidson

Subject Area(s)

Mental health, Psychology, Philosophy


Heroin addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder often attempted to be addressed through detoxification; nonetheless, it poses a substantial economic and societal burden. There has been little psychiatric research into the lived experience of persons struggling with this addiction. The aim of the present study is to characterize the subjective experience of heroin addiction in patients presenting for inpatient detoxification through methods of phenomenological inquiry. Narrative interviews of twelve participants presenting for detoxification were recorded and thematically analyzed for their meaningfulness to the individuals. The findings indicate that the experience of heroin addiction entails focusing on the present with a diminished ability to think of one's past or future. During characteristic transitional moments, such as within the inpatient detoxification setting, a person is able to expand his temporal perspective. During such times, there is a conflict of self that is experienced as contradiction between a past-embedded drive to use and the potential choice to reduce heroin use in the future. Findings indicate that the ability to move forward toward recovery may be facilitated by maintaining temporal perspective and recapitulating personal narrative - including past and future - in positive terms. This process is supported by the person's ability to connect with something beyond the self that can provide a model narrative framework. Potential sources of extra-personal connection and models of recovery include peer support, empathy, self-disclosure, spirituality, and artistic endeavors. Discussion of their current and potential implementation in detox and other settings is addressed.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access