Job, Substance-Free Friends Keys to Maintaining Abstinence

Job, Substance-Free Friends Keys to Maintaining Abstinence

Abstinence is the term used to describe the ability to refrain from the use of drugs or alcohol. Typically, the capacity to achieve and maintain abstinence is viewed as essential to a sustained, successful attempt to control substance addiction and return to a productive daily routine. In a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, researchers from the U.S. and Sweden looked at some of the main factors that either decrease or increase a recovering addict’s ability to maintain substance abstinence over extended periods of time.

Abstinence Basics

People affected by substance addiction undergo long-term changes in brain function that make it extremely difficult for them to suspend drug or alcohol intake on their own. For this reason, addiction recovery commonly requires the help of professionals experienced with dealing with the effects of habitual, excessive substance use. Typically, the recovery process involves controlled withdrawal from the substance in question, as well as supportive treatment in the form of medications and/or appropriate forms of psychotherapy. In most cases, one of the primary goals of these techniques is the establishment and prolongation of the substance-free state called abstinence.

To achieve and maintain abstinence, addicts must go through steps that include completing treatment, participating fully in treatment, dealing with setbacks in the form of relatively common substance relapses and learning to limit the potential occurrence of future relapses. Substance-appropriate medications help promote abstinence by doing such things as decreasing the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and reducing the intensity of the craving for substance use that characterizes the presence of an addiction. Psychotherapeutic approaches promote abstinence by helping recovering addicts do such things as understand the emotional/psychological motivations for substance use, learn to recognize the internal and external cues that typically precede the onset of drug or alcohol use, and learn new methods to cope and adapt to stressful or unpleasant situations without turning to substance use. Some recovering addicts also achieve and maintain abstinence with the help of participation in 12-step recovery groups, which usually emphasize regular, mutually supportive interaction with peers as a key to remaining sober over extended periods of time.

Factors That Influence Long-Term Success

In the study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, researchers from three American institutions and two Swedish institutions used assessments of two groups of recovering addicts to determine which factors make long-term abstinence from substance use more or less likely. One of these groups included 667 participants from the U.S., while the other included 469 participants from Sweden. Over a five-year time period, rates of abstinence were tracked for the members of each of these groups. Factors considered as influences on abstinence rates included gender, the ability to get and keep a job, age and maintenance of friendships with people unaffected by substance abuse or addiction. All of the study participants also submitted periodic self-reports of their relative levels of mental health.

After reviewing the gathered data, the researchers found both similarities and differences in the factors that affect long-term abstinence success in the U.S. and in Sweden. Both the American and Swedish participants significantly increased their chances of maintaining substance abstinence when they remained steadily employed and had a peer group that included substance-free people unaffected by either drug problems or alcohol problems. The American participants who self-reported the ongoing presence of significant anxiety symptoms experienced a 50 percent drop in their abstinence rates. The Swedish participants, on the other hand, did not experience a reduction in their abstinence rates when affected by ongoing anxiety or any other current mental health problems. Still, when the researchers looked at participants with previous histories of mental health issues, they determined that both the Americans and Swedes with such a prior history also experienced a drop in abstinence rates of nearly 50 percent.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases believe they have identified some of the primary factors that help determine whether a recovering addict can maintain abstinence for as long as five years. While specific cultural influences may help determine which factors hold the most sway, the study indicates that, on the whole, the general grouping of relevant factors remains the same, at least between the U.S. and Sweden.

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