Longer treatment more effective for substance addiction

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A study has shown that 13.3% of adult South Africans meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, including alcohol, at some time in their life.

Reflecting similar problems with substance abuse, a recent US study indicates that the longer patients receive treatment for addiction, the greater their chances of success.

The study included 72 people, with an average age of 30 years. The participants were being treated for a variety of addictions, including alcohol and drugs such as opioids, amphetamines and benzodiazepines.

The longer the better

The only significant factor in treatment success was the length of treatment. After one year, the treatment success rate was about 55% for those who underwent a standard 30-day treatment programme. But the success rate was about 84% for those in treatment programmes that lasted more than 30 days, the investigators found.

The findings are important because most government and private health insurance programmes only reimburse patients for 30 days of addiction treatment, said study leader Dr Akikur Mohammad, of the University of Southern California, and colleagues.

Mohammad is a psychiatrist, an addiction medicine specialist and the founder and CEO of Inspire Malibu, a drug addiction treatment centre.

Importance of aftercare

"Aftercare is crucial once an individual has completed drug or alcohol treatment and is in recovery. There is a continuity of care that should be followed once initial treatment is completed," Mohammad said.

"This usually involves a lower level of treatment, such as outpatient care and a sober living environment. Our study shows that the absence of such treatment after 30 days significantly reduces the chances of the patient maintaining their sobriety," Mohammad said in a university news release.

The study was published recently in the Open Journal of Psychiatry.

Addiction in SA

According to Africa Check, there has only been one nationally representative epidemiological study of alcohol, drug and psychiatric disorders, carried out between 2002 and 2004, mainly to diagnose mental disorders in adults. 

The study showed that 13.3% of adult South Africans could be classified as suffering from substance use disorder at some stage in their life. 

“Without alcohol, that figure dropped to around 4.5%,” Shaun Shelley, a research expert in the addiction division of the department of mental health and psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, told Africa Check.

According to the South African Community Epidemiology Network (SACENDU) on Drug Use, cannabis is the dominant substance of abuse in Gauteng, KZN, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. On the other hand, alcohol is the dominant substance of abuse in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Northern Cape.

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