Study Shows Benefits of Abstinence Housing

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Abstinence housing is a type of group housing for recently detoxed addicts. Drugs are not allowed and residents are tested to make sure they remain clean. Along with the safe, drug-free environment, addicts may also be given counseling services or behavioral therapy. The question has been just how well this works compared with other treatments.

A recent study (abstract here) compared three groups of heroin addicts after they all completed a detox regimen. One group was discharged with recommendations for community based treatment. The other two groups went into abstinence housing, either with or without additional day counseling sessions.

The comparison came out highly favoring both abstinence housing and the added counseling. The first group (released to their own resources) showed an overall return to opioids of 87%. Those who were placed in housing managed saw a reduction down to 63% -- or an abstinence rate of 37%. However, the real benefits came when abstinence based housing was combined with daily treatment sessions. This final group had a success rate of 50%.

With return to an active heroin addiction running as high as 80% within the first month after detox in the population overall, the abstinence housing group showed a dramatic improvement. This result was obtained for as long as three months, when the study period ended.

In modern addiction treatment, these results are not only impressive, but they come with an authority that is hard to match. The sample group – 243 patients – was large enough to establish scientific validity. This is important because, although commonsense and anecdotal evidence can be used to drive addiction treatment, having solid, demonstrated numbers offers proof of a type that demands attention.

There are still two unfortunate downsides to the picture outlined. The first is that the return to drugs rate is still too high at 50%. But the second is the expense. Detox for heroin use can be done over the course of a few days. Community follow up with NA or AA is free. Abstinence housing and professional counseling is expensive.

To really get policies changed, there will have to be a direct link between the medical care and benefits to society long term. Without this, it will be difficult to get politicians to approve funds for abstinence housing. With an overall cost savings (lowered criminal justice costs, improved ability to get and hold a job, less long term medical consequences), the policy decisions required to institute similar programs shift from “helping addicts” to “saving tax dollars.” It’s the latter which is the most popular with most politicians.

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