Brain and Body

Researchers Discover What Makes Some Drug Addicts More Likely to Relapse Than Others

April 15, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Hypodermic needle
Photo credit: Steven Depolo/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

It’s critical to tailor addiction treatments to an addict’s unique needs.

According to new research out of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, there are various factors that make certain drug addicts more likely to relapse than others.

The findings, which are published in the journal Substance Abuse Research and Treatment, reveal that if an individual used injections for their drugs, began opioid abuse later in life, or increased their use of downers just before started drug treatment — he or she is more likely to relapse from treatment than others.

"We can improve our tailoring of treatment to each patient if we know who among patients taking methadone treatment is at high risk for opioid relapse," principal study author Dr. Zena Samaan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster, said in a press release.

"As well, health care providers can target more aggressive therapies to those at high risk.”

SEE ALSO: Prescription Opioid Problem Goes Beyond “Pill Mills”

The researchers say that the United States and Canada are currently the world’s highest consumers of prescription opioids — drugs commonly used for pain management. In fact, a previous study found that one in six Canadians use prescription opioids.

Chronic pain is undoubtedly debilitating, but the core of the problem stems from the fact that the pain medications are highly addictive. The most common treatment for those with opioid addiction is methadone, but relapse is common, with nearly half of the patients (46 percent) continuing to use opioids after the methadone treatment.

"Since opioid disorder is chronic, remitting and relapsing, we wanted to find those factors that led to longer abstinence from illicit opioids," said Leen Naji, a student at the School of Medicine and first author of the paper. "There has been little research on this issue of how long a patient can go without the illicit opioid use.”

The research looked at 250 adults who had been on methadone treatment for an average of 13 years at 13 different clinical sites in Ontario.

Through their analysis, they found that those who injected drugs were twice as likely to relapse by using opioids during treatment than those who didn’t inject drugs.

Further, for each day of benzodiazepine (Xanax) use in the previous month, there  was a 7 percent increase in relapse. Interestingly, when it came to benzodiazepines, the researchers found that the older a person was, the less likely he or she was to relapse — but the opposite was true for opioids.

For every year increase in the age at which an opioid addict began to abuse the drug, there  was a 10 percent increase in relapse.

It’s these particular details that reveal just how important it is for doctors to fine-tune addiction treatments to the addict.

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