Thanks to exhaustive ongoing research, every now and again we learn something new that completely change the way we think about addiction. In other words, these new discoveries in the field of addiction often change the narrative.
As you’re probably already aware, a major focus of addiction research is susceptibility. In essence, we’re looking for indicators that make someone particularly likely to develop an addiction at some point in his or her life. And the more indicators of susceptibility that we can discover, the better our chances of developing more effective treatments, identifying at-risk groups, or, perhaps most important, finding ways to prevent addiction from developing in the first place. Of the known characteristics that make a person especially susceptible to addiction, many are social or environmental in nature, but there’s a strong biological basis in addiction, too. This is important as we head into this week’s addiction news coverage.
It’s not just conversations about addiction that are largely discouraging. Despite the thousands of addiction treatment centers spread across the U.S., the success rates of most rehabilitation facilities is extremely low, which evokes a few questions: Why are addiction rehabilitation rates so low? If addiction treatment programs are ineffective, what could we do to make them better? An additional report for this week includes a discussion regarding what these low success rates mean for the industry.
And no news round-up is complete without an update on the current opioid epidemic. This time, we’re going to look at some of the ways that the opioid epidemic has directly affected the economy. Hint: It may not be the ways you’d think.
A hidden link between addiction and autism?
Historically, we believed that people with spectrum disorders like autism couldn’t become addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s not to say we thought having a spectrum disorder made a person immune to the effects of habitual substance abuse, but the consensus was that it was so rare for a person with autism to develop an addiction that the two were almost considered mutually exclusive.
On paper, it seemed that many of the characteristics associated with autism — i.e., needing to follow strict rules and daily routines — were incongruous with substance abuse and the life of an addict. Basically, it was like being autistic served as protection for these individuals, providing a buffer between them and the types of the behaviors that can lead to substance abuse disorders. And when the autism is more severe, these individuals aren’t usually able to live independently, which makes the likelihood of developing substance abuse problems even less. Of course, people with both addictions and spectrum disorders are so few and far between that this belief was based on deductions rather than actual observations. But new evidence directly challenges this previously-held belief and paints quite a different picture.
According to Swedish studies on addiction and autism, having a spectrum disorder doesn’t always make a person unlikely to develop an addiction. On the contrary, evidence seems to indicate that autism makes a person more likely to develop an addiction unless the autism is severe. Specifically, people with autism and average or above-average IQs were found to be twice as likely to become addicted to mind-altering substances they use than peers without spectrum disorders. And the relationship could go even further.
Most people would consider autism and addiction to be quite different disorders, but researchers are noticing more and more overlap between the two, particularly when it comes to psychology, behavior, and neurology. For instance, a shared characteristic of both addicts and people with autism is the use of repetitive, almost ritual-like behavior as a means of coping with stress and intense emotion. With the discovery of a closer relationship between these two diseases than was ever imagined, it seems the greatest risk of addiction for those with autism would be if they began to use alcohol or drugs as a means of coping with their anxieties, especially social anxieties. Although more research is needed, the implications of such studies are quite shocking, but knowing about this relationship will allow us to take better precautions when it comes to educating those with autism about alcohol and drugs.
What poor recovery success rates say about the rehabilitation industry
The spike in addiction rates over the past couple decades has had a steroidal effect on the treatment industry with the United States currently estimated to have approximately 14,000 addiction treatment facilities. Moreover, there’s been a major increase in funding rehabilitation efforts for those suffering from addiction; between 2003 and 2015, federal funding for addiction-related initiatives has doubled, growing from $5.2 billion to $12.5 billion in just twelve years, and that’s without accounting for private, local, and state-level spending. Meanwhile, the number of annual overdose deaths has nearly doubled, too. So if there’s been so much money put into addressing the addiction problem in the United States, why is the rate of addiction still increasing? And why are some estimates of how many people are staying sober after rehab as low as 5 percent?
As for a particular success rate, most figures hover around 30 percent, which means that about 3 in 10 people who complete an addiction treatment program are able to stay sober. Similarly, there have been many attempts to explain why recovery rates are so low, but the most likely scenario is that addiction recovery has largely been a one-size-fits-all model. Until somewhat recently, most rehab centers offered the same types of programming and every patient was expected to participate in the predetermined curriculum that was virtually the same for all patients. Naturally, people don’t adhere to philosophies that don’t work for them, so they relapsed. Fortunately, there’s a major shift happening in this regard. Many rehab centers are beginning to offer a more individualized experience so as to help patients overcome the actual issues they’re having that have been perpetuating their addictions.
The opioid epidemic, unemployment and the economy
Opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers have become one of our most dire concerns. As we already know, this has had a devastating effect on society, resulting in HIV and hepatitis outbreaks as well as countless overdose deaths across the country. However, the opioid addiction epidemic has also affected the U.S. economy, and not necessarily in the ways you might think.
When former U.S. president Barack Obama implemented the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, one of the main concerns of those who opposed the legislation was how much addiction treatment programs would end up costing the American taxpayer. The reason this was a concern is because the Affordable Care Act effectively made addiction treatment one of the essential health benefits of most insurance plans, which significantly increased the number of people with access to rehabilitation options. Of course, this wasn’t how the opioid epidemic affected the economy.
According to statistics, unemployment rates in the U.S. have decreased, which is certainly a positive development. On the other hand, labor-force participation has decreased, particularly among Americans aged 25 to 54. This means that people in this age ranges are either not working or are working very little. Some of the explanations for this trend include an “overly generous” welfare system, a decreasing work ethic, and the lingering effects of the 2008 recession; however, more and more evidence is showing that this trend is health-related. In short, people who aren’t healthy aren’t working.
A recent survey given to a group of “prime-age” unemployed males showed that more than half of them are using some type of opioid drug on a daily basis. For some of these individuals, the opioid use is warranted, perhaps due to some type of injury sustained over the past several years. The issue is that this would seemingly indicate that there are more people getting injured today than in the past, and there’s no real explanation to support that, which is why substance abuse quickly becomes the likely scenario.
So what’s noteworthy about these findings? For starters, it suggests a significant number of unemployed Americans are using opioids in some capacity. It also reinforces the relationship that employment and addiction are sometimes said to have: People who are addicted have difficulty holding jobs while those who are unemployed have shown a tendency to use substance abuse to alleviate the stresses associated with having little to no income. Of course, this isn’t to say that unemployment is caused by addiction or that addiction causes unemployment, but better understanding the population of people who are dependent on chemical substances and the circumstances that led to their dependencies is instrumental in making recovery resources more available to them.