Problem drinking in relation to treatment outcome among opiate addicts in methadone maintenance treatment

M Stenbacka, O Beck, A Leifman, A Romelsjö, A Helander
Drug and Alcohol Review 2007, 26 (1): 55-63
This study analyzed indicators of alcohol-related problems in opiate addicts before, during, and after leaving methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), in relation to illicit drug use and retention in treatment. The study was based on 204 patients, admitted to MMT for the first time between 1 January 1995 and 31 July 2000, and followed until 31 December 2000. Three measures were used to indicate alcohol use and alcohol-related problems; records of hospital care with an alcohol-related diagnosis, any treatment with alcohol-sensitizing drugs (disulfiram or calcium carbimide) during MMT, and results of the 5-hydroxytryptophol to 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid ratio (5HTOL/5HIAA) in urine, a sensitive biomarker for recent drinking. Use of illicit drugs was determined by routine urine drug testing. About one third of the patients (n = 69) had a lifetime prevalence of hospital treatment for an alcohol-related diagnosis, 45 of whom had been hospitalized (mean 4.2 stays) prior to the start of MMT. There was a significant association (p<0.05) between the number of alcohol-related diagnoses prior to treatment and a positive 5HTOL/5HIAA test during MMT. The alcohol indicators first became positive on average 1.6 years after admission to treatment, compared with after about 4 months for illicit drugs. Use of cannabis or benzodiazepines was significantly associated with alcohol use. Female methadone patients with indications of alcohol-related problems relapsed more often into illicit drug use than did women without such indications (3.9 vs. 2.5 relapse periods/year; p<0.005), whereas no significant association was found for men. The results of the present study indicate that drinking problems among patients undergoing MMT is associated with an increased risk of relapse into illicit drug use and with discharge from treatment. Concurrent treatment of alcohol-related problems, including systematic monitoring of alcohol use, therefore should be recommended to reduce the risk for relapse into illicit drug use and improve overall treatment outcome in MMT.

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