Which People Tend to Reenter Drug Treatment?

Which People Tend to Reenter Drug Treatment?

Addiction specialists and researchers know that significant numbers of people who undergo treatment for substance addiction will relapse back into active substance use. In some cases, relapses in previously treated individuals are severe enough to require reentry to a treatment program. In a study published in May 2014 in the journal Substance Abuse, a team of Spanish researchers investigated the common characteristics found in people who reenter treatment for drug addiction and compared those characteristics to the traits found in people who participate in drug treatment only once.

Substance Relapse

Inevitably, people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol experience significant chemical and physical changes in brain function. These long-term changes essentially account for the onset of physical dependence and addiction, and also largely account for the continuation of dependence and addiction over time. When an addicted person enters inpatient or outpatient treatment, he or she typically goes through a detoxification process and establishes initial substance abstinence. In large part, the work of recovery is learning how to maintain an abstinent lifestyle. However, the physical, chemical and behavioral changes associated with addiction don’t go away just because a person stops drinking or taking drugs. In fact, recovering addicts commonly feel intense urges to consume more drugs or alcohol, and also commonly encounter social situations and environments that make their urges more difficult to resist.

Relapses occur when the internal cravings for substance use and/or the social and environmental cues for substance use overwhelm a recovering addict and trigger a return to active consumption of drugs or alcohol. These events are not uncommon, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that people affected by addiction relapse roughly as often as people affected by any other chronic condition that doesn’t resolve quickly over time. Some people relapse while still enrolled in a treatment program, while others relapse weeks, months or years later. In some cases, relapses are relatively minor and do not result in a return to active treatment. However, in other cases, relapses prove serious enough to merit program reentry.

Which People Reenter Treatment?

In the study published in Substance Abuse, researchers from Spain’s Public University of Navarre used an examination of 252 adults affected by drug addiction to help determine which people are most likely to reenter a drug treatment program after experiencing a relapse. All of these adults had enrolled at least once in an outpatient program for their condition. The researchers used a range of tests to gather information on these participants that included basic demographic characteristics (age, racial/ethnic background, gender, etc.), their personal experience with symptoms of mental illness, their general personality characteristics and their habitual patterns of drug use.

Altogether, 166 of the 252 study participants reentered treatment at least once after experiencing a significant drug relapse. This number, which represents 65.9 percent of the group total, underscores the common nature of relapse events. When the researchers compared the characteristics of the people who reentered treatment to the characteristics of those who did not, they found several key differences. First, they found that the people who reentered treatment typically had a less stable employment history than their counterparts who participated in treatment only once. In addition, they found that the people who reentered drug treatment were older, had a greater chance of using two or more substances simultaneously (a practice known as polysubstance use) and had a greater chance of having alcohol-related problems serious enough to merit separate treatment. The researchers also found that the people who reentered drug treatment had personality traits that differed from their study counterparts, and also had differing potential indications of mental illness.

Addiction Severity

Overall, the study’s authors concluded that people who reenter drug treatment after a relapse commonly have more serious addiction-related issues than their counterparts who go through treatment only once. They also concluded that the administrators of treatment programs should routinely carry out thorough checks of their clientele’s previous history of substance treatment upon initial admittance. In addition, the authors concluded that treatment programs should routinely make aftercare resources available to their clients/patients who have completed their program enrollments. Finally, the study’s authors point toward a need for further research on the factors that contribute to a recurring need for enrollment in drug treatment.

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