Study: Young Opioid Addicts Benefit From Residential Treatment

In America, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have unusually high chances of consuming an illegal opioid drug or abusing a prescription opioid medication. For this reason, young adults have heightened risks for opioid use disorder (the collective term for diagnosable opioid abuse and opioid addiction). In a study published in November 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a team of U.S. researchers investigated the effectiveness of abstinence-oriented residential treatment programs in helping young adults with opioid use disorder. These researchers concluded that such programs may be especially useful for young adults affected by opioid addiction.

Young Adults and Opioid Abuse

A federal agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses a yearly survey project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to keep tabs on the amount of opioid drugs and medications abused by Americans over the age of 11. The results from this project include a breakdown of findings for young adults between the ages of 18 and 20, as well as young adults between the ages of 21 and 25. Results from the 2013 version of the NSDUH indicate that people in these two age groups have the nation’s highest rates of prescription opioid abuse. In that year, 3.3 percent of all young adults age 18 to 25 abused an opioid medication at least once per month. While this percentage is greater than the percentages for younger and older people, it represents a decline in use among 18- to 25-year-olds when compared to figures from the first decade of the 2000s.

The NSDUH also includes estimates of how often young adults use/abuse the illegal street opioid heroin. Figures from 2013 indicate that 0.3 percent of all people between the ages of 18 and 25 consumed this drug on a monthly basis. However, since the National Survey on Drug Use and Health excludes two population groups—homeless people and inmates—affected by relatively high rates of heroin use, the overall percentage of young-adult heroin consumers may be substantially higher.

Opioid Treatment

Some people with opioid use disorder only have symptoms associated with physical opioid addiction; others affected by the disorder only have symptoms associated with non-addicted opioid abuse. A third group of people with the illness have combined symptoms of opioid addiction and opioid abuse. Doctors can treat addiction-related symptoms with techniques that include opioid replacement therapy (the substitution of controlled opioid medication intake for uncontrolled opioid drug or medication use) and various forms of behavior-changing psychotherapy. They can also use behavioral therapy to help patients/clients dealing with symptoms of opioid abuse.

Young Adults and Residential Treatment

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Harvard Medical School, Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and the Cambridge Health Alliance used data drawn from 292 people between the ages of 18 and 24 to assess the effectiveness of residential treatment for young adults recovering from opioid use disorder. The researchers undertook this project, in part, because relatively little is known about the usefulness of this treatment approach for adults still in their late teens or early 20s. All of the study participants were enrolled in a residential program based on abstinence-oriented 12-step principles. A quarter of the participants had an opioid addiction, while one-fifth qualified as non-addicted opioid abusers. The remaining 55 percent of the participants had substance problems unrelated to opioid use.

The researchers concluded that all three groups of study participants benefited from enrollment in a residential, abstinence-oriented treatment program. However, in terms of the ability to successfully stay away from substance use, the participants affected by opioid addiction and non-opioid-related substance problems had significantly better outcomes than the participants affected by opioid abuse. Compared to the opioid-abusing group and the non-opioid group, the group recovering from opioid addiction also had a higher rate of involvement in post-residential outpatient treatment. Close to one-third (29 percent) of those individuals who entered treatment for an addiction to opioids totally avoided substance use for a full year after leaving their residential program.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that any young adult recovering from opioid use disorder may benefit from enrollment in a residential program that promotes substance abstinence. However, the greatest benefits of such an enrollment may appear in young adults in recovery from opioid addiction, not opioid abuse.

Posted on March 20th, 2015

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