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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Testing the Drug Substitution Hypothesis

Recovering from a substance use disorder is no small feat. While the rewards of recovery are great, it is often the case that addicts who give up one addiction will substitute one problem for another or relapse into old behavior. In order to stop the cyclical nature of addiction it requires eternal vigilance and a continued program of spiritual maintenance.

Researchers at Columbia University have found that people who overcome a substance use disorder actually reduce the risk of developing a new addiction by half - when compared to people who have not overcome an addiction. The new findings fly in the face of the traditional beliefs and stereotypes of addiction.

“The results are surprising, they cut against conventional clinical lore, which holds that people who stop one addiction are at increased risk of picking up a new one,” Senior Author Dr. Mark Olfson told Reuters. “The results challenge the old stereotype that people switch or substitute addictions, but never truly overcome them.”

Data from surveys taken in 2001 and 2004, including 35,000 adults, was analyzed by researchers. The survey participants were asked about their use of:

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers
  • Painkillers

The researchers at Columbia looked at the occurrence of a new substance use disorder among adults who already had a disorder. About 20 percent of those who had a substance use disorder in 2001 had one by 2004. Only 13 percent of people in recovery from their original dependence had developed an addiction to something else.

“While it would be foolish to assume that people who quit one drug have no risk of becoming addicted to another drug, the new results should give encouragement to people who succeed in overcoming an addiction,” Olfson said. “I hope that these results contribute to lessening the stigma and discrimination that many adults and young people with a history of substance abuse face when they seek employment.”

The findings appear in JAMA Psychiatry.

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