Growing Old is Mandatory; Relapsing is Optional

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They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but Jim’s determined to prove them wrong.

Jim is 58. He started abusing opioids after a fall off a ladder left him with permanent back problems and chronic pain. That was four years ago.

Four months ago, Jim entered a methadone maintenance treatment program. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, at least according to the “experts,” Jim’s got a long, hard recovery road ahead if he wants to stay clean.

The Impact of Father Time

According to a recent study, Jim’s age is working against him. Since he started abusing opioids later in life, he’s more likely to relapse.

In fact, for every year older a person is when they start abusing opioids, there is a 10 percent increase in relapse rate. That means, at age 54, Jim is 40 percent more likely to relapse than Hank, who started using at age 50.

Another angle of the study indicates Jim’s age may also be working for him. Researchers report the older a person is when they start treatment, the more likely it is they will not relapse. (As opposed to how old they are when they start abusing.)

What was Jim’s response to the research and the age-related conclusions its experts reached? “Never tell me the odds.” If Jim succeeds in his sobriety, he’ll be among the 54 percent of patients who don’t use illicit opioids during or after methadone treatment.

Age and IV Drug Abuse

Hank’s story is a bit different. Instead of popping pills like Jim, he injected his drugs. Age factor aside, researchers say Hank is twice as likely to relapse while undergoing treatment in a methadone program, as compared to non-IV drug users in the same program.

Is Hank’s situation hopeless? Far from it.

Knowing these age-related statistics, Hank redoubles his efforts to stay clean. If he reaches his recovery goals, he will have overcome twice the odds.

Tailored Treatment is the Key

What’s the main takeaway of this study? Simply put, some patients are more likely to relapse than others. (Tell us something we don’t know, right?)

The point of the research is not to bring doom and gloom to people in treatment – it’s not to discourage those seeking recovery – it’s certainly not to tell Jim, Hank and the millions of others in treatment that they are destined to relapse. Instead, the point of the study is to help improve treatment methods.

Dr. Zena Samaan, principal author of the study, notes, “We can improve our tailoring of treatment to each patient if we know who among patients taking methadone treatment is at high risk for opioid relapse.”

Remember: We have the power to change. It’s up to us to determine our own fates…not the numbers.

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