The long-term impact of post traumatic stress disorder on recovery from heroin dependence

June 2018
Mills KL, Marel C, Darke S, Ross J, Slade T, Teesson M. (2018). The long-term impact of post traumatic stress disorder on recovery from heroin dependence. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 89, 60-66. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2018.04.001

The high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among people with heroin dependence and its impact on short term outcomes has been well established. The impact of PTSD on long-term recovery is, however, unknown. The authors examined the impact of current and lifetime PTSD on long-term recovery from heroin dependence among participants who took part in the 11-year follow-up of the Australian Treatment Outcome Study (ATOS), a prospective naturalistic longitudinal study of 615 people with heroin dependence recruited from Sydney, Australia, in 2001-2002. Seventy-one percent of the cohort (n = 431) were re-interviewed 11-years post study entry.

Outcomes examined included heroin and other drug use, dependence, general physical and mental health, depression, PTSD, employment, and the incidence of trauma exposure, overdose, imprisonment, and attempted suicide over the 11- year follow-up. Despite having a poorer profile at baseline, individuals with current PTSD or a history of PTSD at baseline demonstrated similar levels of improvement to those without a history of PTSD in all outcome domains across the 11-year follow-up.

PTSD was associated with consistently higher levels of major depression, and attempted suicide, subsequent trauma exposure, and poorer occupational functioning across the 11-year follow-up. These findings highlight the importance of interventions aimed at occupational rehabilitation, reducing the likelihood of re-traumatisation, and addressing PTSD and associated comorbidities among people with heroin dependence.