Researchers from Columbia University discovered that people who formerly battled addiction and sobered up were less likely to develop an addiction to a new substance later on. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.
The researchers noted their findings dispute previous beliefs that addiction to one substance could lead to another. The findings possibly defy the stereotype that people who battle addiction to more than one substance never truly overcame the first addiction.
However, the study authors also believe that their findings are not true for everyone.
The causes behind addiction
Mental illness can play a significant role in a person’s battle with substance abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated that 8.9 million adults battle both a mental illness and a substance abuse addiction.
The researchers studied national data from a survey conducted between 2001 and 2004. They examined people who began with one addiction in 2001 and developed another by 2004.
The survey queried 35,000 people about their use of tranquilizers, sedatives, stimulants, painkillers, cocaine, marijuana, inhalants, hallucinogens, alcohol, heroin and nicotine. The participants were interviewed once in 2001 and again in 2004.
The study’s findings
After the three years had passed, 3,275 people who initially had an addiction still qualified for an addiction. Conversely, 2,741 people had overcome their addiction after three years.
The researchers estimated that 20 percent of participants had a new addiction by 2004. Twenty-seven percent of that percentage were people who had not gotten clean from their first addiction and 13 percent were people who had sobered up.
“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,” said senior author Mark Olfson, Ph.D, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
They realized that young, single men held the greatest risk for developing an addiction.
Though some people believe that a history of addiction makes people more vulnerable to new addictions, these findings could prove otherwise. Those beliefs have very little evidence to rest on, the researchers noted.
“The ‘Substitution’ hypothesis is mainly based in clinical lore that may be biased with clinicians’ subjective perceptions of specific patients’ progression,” said Olaya García-Rodríguez, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Oviedo in Spain.
Their study is the first of its kind to test the substitution belief and potentially prove it wrong. Their findings prove that only 13 percent of people develop a new addiction, which is lower than most people would believe.
People need to make several lifestyle changes in order to overcome addiction and learn ways to prevent new addictions from forming. The researchers noted this could happen by avoiding old social circles, renewing relationships with positive friends and family or just organizing finances. They stated that remission is possible and people should stop believing that addiction is a chronic illness.
People who fully overcome addiction reduce their chances for criminal activity and improve their health and social behavior.
The study authors concluded that they hope their findings can reduce the negative stigma surrounding people with addiction, especially when they apply for jobs.