The struggle to overcome a substance use disorder can be challenging for those who enter addiction treatment and particularly for users of certain drugs. Heroin addicts, for instance, can have a difficult time completing substance abuse treatment programs. Those who enter treatment often relapse before the withdrawal period is complete.
The cycle of entering addiction treatment only to relapse can become discouraging to patients addicted to heroin. Almost half of those who enter treatment are unable to finish and begin using heroin again. While multiple factors are involved, cravings are certainly a major component of the relapse.
While there have been a number of pieces of research studies on the role of cravings in relapse, a few of them have focused on the various aspects of the cravings, such as intensity and frequency, in their impact on the relapse.
The drug and alcohol rehab field is continually evolving, though, and many more treatment centers today are either seeking new ways to help people to recover or are implementing additional therapies for lasting sobriety. Either way, finding the right program is the most important thing and the one that is going to work for you.
To better understand the specific role that cravings can play, Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands headed a research team that examined how different types of cravings impact recovery. The researchers recruited 68 individuals who were enrolled in inpatient therapy for heroin addiction. The patients were given digital devices that recorded their attentional bias and cognitions related to heroin use, recorded at arbitrary times during the course of the day, with the tool being used for one full week.
In addition, the participants were each tasked with reporting feelings experienced when they were tempted to use drugs (TA).
The researchers recorded the participants as exhibiting three types of relapses, i.e., late relapse, early relapse, occurring following the assessment period of one week, and no type of relapse. The researchers, in a key finding, discovered that those participants who relapsed were not recorded as having more instances of temptations when compared with those who experienced no relapse.
Those who relapsed were instead recorded as having a stronger craving experienced and also indicated more implicit optimistic attitudes related to using the drug when they experienced a craving. When frequencies of cravings were compared, however, there was no difference between those who relapsed and those who did not.
The finding provides evidence that it may not be the craving frequency that predicts whether a patient will experience a relapse, but instead the strength of the craving and how their perception of the cravings is felt. Those who had a higher number of positive attitudes towards using heroin and exhibited a stronger attentional bias concerning heroin use were more likely to relapse.
The researchers found that, in the absence of cravings, the general cognitive appraisals proved to be consistent for all participants. The findings suggest that implicit attitudes and attentional bias toward drug use may be a strategic target for efforts of intervention.