How Veterans of the Vietnam War Overcame Heroin Addiction

Researchers know that detox and talk therapy work for heroin addictions, but the role of the environment may be overlooked. A decades-old study on Vietnam troops reveals fresh details about the effects of the environment on heroin addiction.

After two congressmen visited soldiers in Vietnam in 1971, the study began. When Robert Steele and Morgan Murphy returned to the United States, they reported on the troops’ usage of heroin, estimating that roughly 15% of them were addicted. President Nixon was moved by the news and established an agency to investigate drug usage prevention, as well as funding a program to track addicted soldiers when they came home to see how they fared in treatment and beyond.

    Soldiers from Vietnam and Relapse Rates

    The research The finding sparked a frenzy of action in Washington, with President Nixon establishing the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention to encourage prevention and rehabilitation, as well as follow addicted military men when they came home.

    One of the researchers in charge was Lee Robins. Robins discovered that when troops who had been heroin addicts returned home, only 5% of them were re-addicted after a year, and only 12% relapsed within three years, reversing widely held ideas about addiction. In other words, nearly nine out of 10 troops who took heroin in Vietnam were able to kick their habit very immediately.

    To Change Your Behavior, Change Your Environment

    Recent advances in behavioral psychology may explain why relatively few men have reverted to heroin usage. Men who began taking heroin during the war were restricted to a certain location. Because cheap, strong heroin was readily available, the men used it during their breaks and frequently smoked it. They went home to a different setting without the social and environmental cues to take the drug after going through withdrawal and detox in Vietnam. The environment has a strong association with a person’s subconscious ideas, according to behavior researchers, making it simpler to do something without even thinking about it.

    Of the men who reported heroin addiction in Vietnam, only 7% showed addiction symptoms at a follow-up eight to 12 months later. Many still reported drug use, however, shifting from heroin to amphetamines or barbiturates. Men who used drugs before Vietnam and/or used drugs heavily during the war had the strongest likelihood of returning to use or switching to other drugs.

    Troops in Vietnam spent their days surrounded by signs that prompted them to use heroin: it was simple to obtain, they were overwhelmed by the continual stress of war, they formed connections with fellow soldiers who used heroin, and they were thousands of miles from home. However, when a soldier returned to the United States, he was thrust into an atmosphere lacking such triggers. When the situation changed, the habit shifted as well.

    Compare this to a regular drug user’s condition. Someone becomes hooked at home or with friends, goes to a clinic to become clean (which is free of all the environmental stimuli that trigger their habit), and then returns to their former area, which has all of the signals that led to their addiction in the first place. It’s no surprise that most studies provide results that are diametrically opposed to the Vietnam research. When heroin addicts return home from treatment, 90 percent of them become re-addicted.

    Howto Self Control

    Because it contradicted the common identification of unhealthy conduct as a moral flaw, the Vietnam research challenged many of our cultural views about harmful habits. If you’ve spent your life being told that you’re overweight, a smoker, or an addict, it’s because you lack self-control—or even that you’re a nasty person. Our society is profoundly rooted in the belief that a little bit of discipline would fix all of our issues.

    A recent study, on the other hand, suggests otherwise. When scientists look at people who appear to have a lot of self-control, they find that they’re not all that different from those who struggle. Instead, “disciplined” people are more adept at organizing their life in ways that do not need extraordinary determination and self-control. To put it another way, they spend less time in settings that are enticing.

    folks who have the most self-control are the ones who don’t need to exercise it as often. When you don’t have to employ self-control too often, it’s easy to do so. Yes, tenacity, grit, and willpower are necessary for success, but the best approach to increase these attributes is to create a more disciplined environment, not by wishing you were a more disciplined person.

    When you understand what happens in the brain when a habit is established, this seemingly paradoxical thought makes much more sense. When a habit is stored in the mind, it is ready to be employed anytime the appropriate occasion comes. Patty Olwell, a therapist from Austin, Texas, used to light up while riding horses with a companion when she first started smoking. She eventually gave up smoking and avoided it for a long time. She’d also given up riding. She jumped back on a horse decades later and, for the first time in a long time, she craved a smoke. She’d absorbed the cues, but she hadn’t been exposed to them in a long time.

    When contextual signals emerge after a habit has been encoded, the impulse to act follows. This is one of the reasons why behavior modification methods might backfire. Weight reduction presentations that shame fat individuals might make them feel overwhelmed, and as a result, many people revert to their favored coping strategy: overeating. When smokers are shown images of blackened lungs, their anxiety levels rise, prompting them to grab a cigarette. You might trigger the precise behavior you wish to stop if you don’t pay attention to cues.

    Autocatalytic means that the process feeds itself. They exacerbate the sentiments they’re attempting to suppress. You’re not feeling well, so you consume junk food. You feel guilty because you eat junk food. You feel lethargic after watching television, so you watch more since you don’t have the energy to do anything else.

    Cue-induced desiring is a term used by researchers to describe when an external stimulus produces an obsessive want to repeat a negative behavior.
    The punchline is as follows: It’s possible to stop a habit, but it’s rare that you’ll forget it. Even if the mental grooves of habit have been etched into your brain for a long time, they are nearly hard to eradicate totally.

    As a result, merely rejecting temptation isn’t a viable method. It’s difficult to maintain a Zen mindset in a world full of distractions. It necessitates an excessive amount of effort. You can choose to resist temptation in the short term. We become a product of the place we live in in the long term. To put it frankly, I have never witnessed somebody maintain positive behaviors in a terrible atmosphere.

    • Cutting unhealthy behaviors off at the source is a more dependable method. Reducing exposure to the cue that triggers the negative behavior is one of the most practical methods to break it:
    • Leave your phone in another room for a few hours if you can’t seem to get any work done.
    • Stop following social media profiles that make you resentful and envious if you’re always feeling inadequate.
    • Move the television out of the bedroom if you’re wasting too much time viewing it.
    • Stop reading evaluations of the latest tech gadgets if you’re overspending on devices.
    • If you’re a video game addict, unplug the console and store it in a closet after each session.

    Self-control is a short-term, not long-term technique. You might be able to resist temptation once or twice, but it’s improbable that you’ll be able to do so on a regular basis. Your energy would be better spent enhancing your surroundings rather than conjuring a new dosage of willpower whenever you want to do the right thing. This is the key to maintaining self-control. Make your good habits evident and your bad habits invisible by making the indicators of your positive behaviors visible.

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    What conclusions should a person draw from the study? It’s critical to appreciate the importance of the environment in the rehabilitation process. Changing a person’s environment can help them alter their behavior, and leaving an old setting that nurtures and supports addiction can help patients develop a new life in recovery with a decreased risk of relapse.

    Patients may find it advantageous to seek treatment in a different state or city than where they actively took their drugs of choice, and then to stay in that new location to rebuild their life. Removing themselves from a drug-abusing setting makes it simpler to modify their attitudes and actions in the long run.

    Of course, the environment isn’t the most important issue in every circumstance. Long-term psychotherapy care is required when addictive behavior is driven by an effort to repair untreated emotional scars from the past.

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