Johns Hopkins study supports more nuanced approach to addiction treatment
The study, published Wednesday, found that reduced drug use leads to notable health benefits — bucking the common belief that complete abstinence is the only method of treating substance use disorder.
Complete abstinence from drugs is often considered the only way to properly treat substance use disorder, but that’s proving not to be the case.
As more nuanced approaches to treatment are explored, reduced drug use alone has also proved effective in treating the disease of addiction, according to a study published this week by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“By promoting an understanding of addiction as a treatable disorder with multifaceted causes, society can work towards providing better support, resources, and care for individuals on their way to recovery,” said Dr. Masoumeh Aminesmaeili, a Johns Hopkins researcher who led the study. “This approach is not only compassionate, but also clinically valid in addressing the complex nature of addiction.”
The study, published on Wednesday, was conducted in collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It focused on more than 2,000 methamphetamine and cocaine users from 13 clinical trials.
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Reduced use alone led to a 60% decrease in cravings for the user’s drug of choice, a 41% decrease in drug-seeking behaviors and a 40% decrease in the severity of the user’s depression, the study reported.
In addition, the data showed that it was more likely for an addict to successfully reduce their frequency of use than practice complete abstinence, with 18% and 14% being able to do so, respectively.
Other studies on alcohol use disorder have yielded similar results, the researchers noted.
“These findings align with an evolving understanding in the field of addiction, affirming that abstinence should be neither the sole aim nor only valid outcome of treatment,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA. “Embracing measures of success in addiction treatment beyond abstinence supports more individualized approaches to recovery, and may lead to the approval of a wider range of medications that can improve the lives of people with substance use disorders.”
While the study notes that more research is required to better understand the clinical benefits of reduced drug use, the researchers believe it should encourage more nuanced treatment methods for those struggling with addiction.
The conversation around the efficacy of reduced drug use rather than complete abstinence may sound foreign to anyone who has undergone conventional forms of treatment.
But by failing to acknowledge that complete abstinence is not the only method of addressing addiction, the ability to treat substance use disorders is limited, the study states.
Reduced drug use is considered a form of harm reduction, which has been proven to improve health outcomes in those who are not willing to completely abstain from substances.
To that population, making drug use as safe as possible is often the best chance for addicts to regain some control over their lives.
Harm reduction initiatives have been taken up by cities throughout the U.S. in recent years, including in Baltimore. Other forms of harm reduction include general drug education, needle exchange programs and supervised injection sites.