Recovery From Heroin Dependence Can Lead To Heavy Alcohol Consumption Later In Life

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Recovery From Heroin Dependence Can Lead To Heavy Alcohol Consumption Later In Life

As I enter my friend Nathan’s apartment, the I first notice several liquor and wine bottles, mostly empty, strewn about the living room and dining room. This fact is especially disconcerting since Nate is a recovering heroin and prescription drug addict. While he hasn’t imbibed in opiates or opioids in years (as far as I know) clearly he is not sober.

A recent long-term study has found that patients suffering from heroin dependence who receive opioid substitution therapy (i.e. methadone) initially drink less alcohol at the onset of this therapy, but years later, report drinking alcohol more often they once did.

heroin dependence | Just Believe RecoveryResearchers from the University Psychiatric Hospital and the University of Zurich studied 9,000 patients with heroin addiction who were given opioid substitution therapy between 1998-2014. At the beginning of treatment, patients consumed less heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.

Moreover, the number of patients who used heroin at least five days per week dropped from over 14% to just 6% over the 17 year period. Also, the number of frequent cocaine users decreased from 8.5% to just under 5%.

However, toward the completion of the study, more than 1 in 5 patients, or 22.5%, consumed alcohol frequently.

This is not good news, as liver infections (i.e. hepatitis) are common in people with opioid addiction, and heavy alcohol use can further contribute to poor health in these patients.

In fact, previous studies have found that an increasing number of people addicted to opioids suffer (and die) from liver disease:

“…these findings suggest that frequent alcohol use increasingly constitutes a therapeutic challenge in opioid substitution therapy.”

The study was published The Lancet in February 2017.

G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology


Herdener, M., et al. Changes in substance use in patients receiving opioid substitution therapy and resulting clinical challenges: a 17-year treatment case register analysis. 28 February 2017.


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