Social environment may influence drug, alcohol abuse

New York:Social relationships including family and friends play a key role in an individual's recovery from substance-abuse problems and at the same time may also negatively influence them to become an addict, finds a study. The findings showed that the links between substance use and social connections are bi-directional and strong. "Our data show that social mechanisms substantially affect clinical outcomes over long periods of time," said Robert L. Stout, a scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a US based non-profit organisation.  Often after treatment for substance abuse problems, clinicians urge patients to avoid 'bad' social contacts and foster 'good' ones, the study said. "How clients change their social connections after treatment is a strong indicator of substance abuse outcomes one year and three years later," Stout added." Nearly 20 per cent of relationship terminations pose a relapse risk to the patients. On the other hand around 10 per cent of relationship terminations occur because of the patients' continued use of substances.  Family and partner relationships are the least likely to end (roughly 20 per cent over two years), but about half of friendships seem to end over the span of two years. Substance abuse strongly affects families and friends of alcohol abusers, accounting for much of the harm due to alcohol abuse, said the paper that underlines the importance of investigating how we can address social mechanisms in treatment to improve outcomes.  "Alcohol problems involve biological, psychological and social aspects. Therefore, intervening in the social connections of alcohol abusers may help to mitigate the damage done by alcohol misuse," Stout suggested.  The team followed patients' undergoing treatment for drugs and alcohol for two years to examine how changes in new and old relationships are linked to substance abuse.  They focussed on factors associated with relationship break ups, observing how different types of relationships affect and are affected by substance use.  The researchers also looked at how relationship changes ultimately affected treatment outcomes. The results were presented at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism in New Orleans, recently.