PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – An unprecedented study is attempting to uncover why female crack users relapse while they are being treated for their addiction.
“Women, Hostages of Crack” seeks to identify the aspects that influence cravings for the drug, which often lead to addicts’ relapsing.
“Some female patients have relapsed and the craving sensation is one of the factors contributing to this,” says Rodrigo Grassi, a professor from the School of Psychology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS) and coordinator of the study.
Since March, 260 chemically-dependent women have been under observation. They are between 18 and 50 years old, from different social classes and have been admitted to the São Rafael Psychiatric Unit of the Mãe de Deus Hospital in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul by Brazil’s public Unified Health System (SUS).
The researchers will monitor these women for another year. The PUC-RS School of Psychology and the Mãe de Deus Hospital are partners in the study, which is also receiving support from the Graduate Program in Genetics and Molecular Biology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).
The results will be available at the end of the study but preliminary data on 60 of the patients show more than 75% were victims of abuse during childhood. The stress from their childhood and adolescence contributed to them turning to narcotics, specialists say. “In these cases, it’s common for people to become more unstable,” Grassi says.
“They wind up looking for a way to break out, which often leads them to seek out psychoactive substances.”
The comparison between addicts who do and do not have histories of abuse show the cravings during detoxification are much stronger in women who suffered some kind of trauma.
“The reduction of these symptoms is much slower in women who were victims of some type of abuse, be it sexual, physical or emotional, as well as physical or emotional neglect,” Grassi adds.
Preliminary findings on patients with a history of child abuse indicate the majority tried alcohol and marijuana at a very early age, between 10 and 12. This group also shows more pronounced signs of depression and thoughts of suicide.
The problem, Grassi adds, is the sooner the consumption takes place, the more quickly the user becomes hooked, making detoxification more difficult.
The next step will be to gather the information that has been collected during the detoxification period to identify the risk factors of crack use.
“Based on this monitoring, seeing who is more vulnerable or more resistant to crack addiction, it will be possible to develop more effective intervention strategies for users,” Grassi says. “Giving in to the desire to go back to using crack is the most serious aspect of the disease, and we can map out who, in some form or another, has this problem.”
Long-term monitoring essential
The most difficult period for drug addicts during detoxification is the first week, when they are forbidden to consume any chemical substances. It’s common during this seven-day period for their bodies to urge them to continue using narcotics.
“They cannot consume any chemical substances, even legal ones, such as cigarettes and alcohol,” says psychiatrist Julio Pezzi, from the Mãe de Deus Hospital, who is part of the team carrying out the study. “The problem is that the craving for cigarettes is as strong as the one for crack, so we need therapy and medicine to deal with the situation.”
As a result, long-term monitoring is important for users undergoing detoxification.
“The most critical part, which is the first 21 days, happens at the hospital,” Pezzi adds. “After that, it’s essential that people with chemical dependencies continue to receive help, either in therapeutic communities or in CAPS (Psychosocial Care Centers).”