Pharmacopsychiatry 2003; 36 - 247
DOI: 10.1055/s-2003-825490

Is premature termination of opiate detoxification due to intensive withdrawal or craving?

N Scherbaum 1, K Heppekausen 2, F Rist 3
  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Essen, Germany
  • 2Institute for Therapy Research, Muenchen, Germany
  • 3Psychological Institute I, Faculty of Psychology, University of Muenster, Germany

Opiate addicts terminate inpatient detoxification prematurely in about 50% of treatment episodes. Premature termination is often considered to be motivated by intensive withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, the relation between discontinuing treatment and the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and heroin craving is investigated. 130 opiate addicts consecutively admitted to a detoxification ward daily assessed the intensity of withdrawal symptoms on the Short Opiate Withdrawal Scale (SOWS) as well as the intensity of heroin craving on a visual analogue scale. Withdrawal symptoms were treated by stepwise reduction of methadone and symptom oriented medication. 66 patients (50.8%) terminated treatment prematurely. However, during the days preceding termination, these patients did not differ from regularly detoxified patients assessed on corresponding days with respect to craving, and reported even less intensity of withdrawal symptoms. In conclusion, neither the intensity of withdrawal symptoms nor the intensity of heroin craving constitutes the primary reason for premature termination of detoxification.