Testing the Drug Substitution Switching-Addictions Hypothesis
A Prospective Study in a Nationally Representative Sample
Carlos Blanco, MD, PhD; Mayumi Okuda, MD; Shuai Wang, PhD; Shang-Min Liu, MS; Mark Olfson, MD, MPH
September 10, 2014
Importance Adults who remit from a substance use disorder (SUD) are often thought to be at increased risk for developing another SUD. A greater understanding of the prevalence and risk factors for drug substitution would inform clinical monitoring and management.
Objective To determine whether remission from an SUD increases the risk of onset of a new SUD after a 3-year follow-up compared with lack of remission from an SUD and whether sociodemographic characteristics and psychiatric disorders, including personality disorders, independently predict a new-onset SUD.
Design, Setting, and Participants A prospective cohort study where data were drawn from a nationally representative sample of 34 653 adults from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Participants were interviewed twice, 3 years apart (wave 1, 2001–2002; wave 2, 2004–2005).
Main Outcomes and Measures We compared new-onset SUDs among individuals with at least 1 current SUD at wave 1 who did not remit from any SUDs at wave 2 (n = 3275) and among individuals with at least 1 current SUD at wave 1 who remitted at wave 2 (n = 2741).
Results Approximately one-fifth (n = 2741) of the total sample had developed a new-onset SUD at the wave 2 assessment. Individuals who remitted from 1 SUD during this period were significantly less likely than those who did not remit to develop a new SUD (13.1% vs 27.2%, P < .001). Results were robust to sample specification. An exception was that remission from a drug use disorder increased the odds of a new SUD (odds ratio [OR] = 1.46; 95% CI, 1.11-1.92). However, after adjusting for the number of SUDs at baseline, remission from drug use disorders decreased the odds of a new-onset SUD (OR = 0.66; 95% CI, 0.46-0.95) whereas the number of baseline SUDs increased those odds (OR=1.68; 95% CI, 1.43-1.98). Being male, younger in age, never married, having an earlier age at substance use onset, and psychiatric comorbidity significantly increased the odds of a new-onset SUD during the follow-up period.
Conclusions and Relevance As compared with those who do not remit from an SUD, remitters have less than half the risk of developing a new SUD. Contrary to clinical lore, achieving remission does not typically lead to drug substitution but rather is associated with a lower risk of new SUD onsets.