Currently, estimates state that more than 2 million Americans have a type of opioid use disorder (OUD); therefore, it is a substantial public health problem. Preventing opioid use in the first place is the best way to battle the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, there are not enough resources available for prevention to be the norm. Furthermore, a large number of patients in treatment for substance use reuse drugs or alcohol at some point in their treatment, and more than half of patients relapse within a year after treatment. In contrast, others drop out of treatment altogether. Unfortunately, these issues of relapse and dropout are common. Consequently, a study done by the NYU School of Medicine wanted to see if a computer betting game may help predict the risk that a person in recovery from opioid addiction will relapse or begin reusing drugs or alcohol. 

The Research Specifics

The study utilized a group of 70 people, composed of 12 women and 58 men, around the age of 45 with opioid use disorder. This group was going through opiate addiction therapy for up to seven months. These study subjects played a betting game for these seven months during weekly or monthly clinical visits, from one to fifteen sessions per person within this time frame. Each group played the betting game regularly throughout several months. The study compared the results of 55 other patients, 13 women, and 42 men who played this betting game weekly, but they were not going through addiction therapy to opioids. They were the control group. The researchers also interviewed all patients involved and reviewed clinical records to assess cravings, withdrawals, current anxiety levels, and nonadherence, or when patients refuse to stick to an established therapeutic regimen. Opioid use was measured using self-reporting and random urine tests. Risk scores were graphed and plotted to track the patients’ willingness to take risks, whether they are known or unknown.  

The computer game the researchers used tested the patient’s comfort and willingness with risk-taking by generating mathematical scores that measured the patient’s levels of risk. During this game, patients had the choice to accept a known risk, like getting an instant chip reward worth $5, or gambling on riskier bags of chips with the possibility of a reward up to $66 or no reward at all. Some of the chip bags had two chips, giving the patients a 50% chance of winning, and other bags had more chips, so the patients were not aware of their chances of winning. The game only took a few minutes to complete, and risk scores were measured to track the patient’s willingness to take a known or unknown risk. The statistical test measured whether changes in the patient’s comfort with risk-taking correlated with opioid relapse. The study found that people who placed higher-risk bets had higher mathematical scores. 

The Results of The Study

The study found that patients with significant increases in their total scores were almost 85% likely to reuse opioids within the following week. Conversely, patients with small increases in overall scores were much less likely to reuse during treatment, which generally entailed a combination of medication and talk therapy to help deter patients from their addiction.
Furthermore, in treatment, patients experience highs and lows. These trends reflected in the research, where low mathematical scores correlated with when patients felt in control of their ability to resist the urge to reuse substances. Then, these scores immediately rose right before patients did reuse when they began to feel “lucky” and were willing to place higher bets. Therefore, this game is now in app development, which providers could use to monitor patients’ progress. These results could allow personal access for medical teams and mental health providers, even for support groups, friends, or family members, which would then alert them about the patient’s vulnerability to reuse or relapse. These findings could lead to the construction of clinical tools for tracking and diminishing the number of patients who relapse and reuse opioids during and following treatment.  

Current Phone App’s Are Already Making A Difference

An app called “Hey, Charlie,” was created in 2016 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that helps people steer clear of environmental triggers that might jeopardize their recovery from opioid addiction. It works by monitoring the app user’s location and contacts, sending notifications that caution them about risky acquaintances and neighborhoods. It gives the user a message like, “Hey, I know you’re close to a risk area, but you can do this.” This type of technology is essential for recovery because places and people can remind a substance user of their use and lead them to relapse. Technology is pervasive in society, and therefore, developing apps such as these to assist recovery and relapse is the obvious next step in establishing new avenues for treatment. 

Struggling with a Substance Use Disorder?

Research requires identifying the risk of reuse vulnerability so that we can understand relapse. Current techniques seem to be insufficient in preventing relapse and only provide information after a patient has relapsed. Computer-based testing may offer a new option to identification, prediction, and prevention of relapse. Additionally, developing apps that can connect those struggling with substance use disorders (SUDs) may significantly impact the opioid and substance use epidemic affecting our country. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to seek help.  At Burning Tree Ranch, we specialize in long-term care that produces real results, especially for those who have experienced a relapse.  Here you will find a team of qualified and compassionate professionals, ready to help each client through a customized treatment program that addresses all aspects of addiction, including the identification of co-occurring disorders.  We know that the journey towards recovery doesn’t end with the conclusion of an inpatient program, which is why we provide extensive aftercare programs to best support our clients during their transition into lasting sobriety. We also know that addiction affects the whole family, and therefore loved ones are encouraged to participate in the recovery process and take advantage of all our support resources.  For more information, call us today at 512-285-5900.