A consumer’s guide to research on substance use disorders (part 5)

In previous posts, I explained the challenges of making sense of research and introduced 8 questions that will help readers evaluate evidence and relevance to their work, goals, and lives. Today is question #4.

4) What outcomes did the study measure? (How did they define success?)

Outcomes measured in research do not necessarily correspond well with the outcomes patients are seeking.

Common outcomes include:

  • retention in treatment
  • illicit opioid use
  • mortality
  • illicit drug use (non-opioid)
  • criminal activity
  • HIV risk behaviors

Less common outcomes include:

  • abstinence from alcohol and other drugs
  • quality of life measures like employment, housing, and family status.

The implications for this are profound. For example, a study may investigate the effects of a treatment on people with opioid use disorders. If the study is only examining the impact of the treatment on illicit opioid use, the treatment could be described as effective when subjects sustain alcohol, cocaine, or prescription opioid problems. 

Consider the outcomes you want for yourself or your loved one. Then, determine whether the studies outcomes match your desired outcomes.

Previous posts in this series:

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