Reduced drug use is a meaningful treatment outcome for people with stimulant use disorders

NIH-supported findings suggest the need to expand definitions of addiction treatment success beyond abstinence

Reducing stimulant use was associated with significant improvement in measures of health and recovery among people with stimulant use disorder, even if they did not achieve total abstinence. This finding is according to an analysis(link is external) of data from 13 randomized clinical trials of treatments for stimulant use disorders involving methamphetamine and cocaine. Historically, total abstinence has been the standard goal of treatment for substance use disorders, however, these findings support the growing recognition that a more nuanced perspective on measuring treatment success may be beneficial.

The study, published in Addiction, was led by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, in collaboration with researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers found that transitioning from high use (five or more days a month) to lower use (one to four days a month) was associated with lower levels of drug craving, depression, and other drug-related challenges compared to no change in use. These results suggest that reduction in use of methamphetamine or cocaine, in addition to abstinence, is a meaningful surrogate or intermediate clinical outcome in medication development for stimulant addiction. Unlike other substance use disorders, such as opioid use disorder or alcohol use disorder, there are currently no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved pharmacological treatments for stimulant use disorders.

“These findings align with an evolving understanding in the field of addiction, affirming that abstinence should be neither the sole aim nor only valid outcome of treatment,” said NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D. “Embracing measures of success in addiction treatment beyond abstinence supports more individualized approaches to recovery, and may lead to the approval of a wider range of medications that can improve the lives of people with substance use disorders.”

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, January 10, 2024