Psychological and physiological stress negatively impacts early engagement and retention of opioid-dependent individuals on methadone maintenance

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2015 Jan;48(1):117-27. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2014.08.006. Epub 2014 Aug 29.


The present study investigated whether psychological and/or physiological measures of stress would impede induction onto methadone maintenance and predict early (<6 months) discontinuation. Compared with controls, opioid-dependent subjects displayed increased distress on the perceived stress scale (PSS) and post-traumatic stress disorder checklist (PCLC); 60% exhibited abnormal cortisol. Addiction severity index (ASI), drug-use, and stress indices explained between 17 and 37% of the variance in engagement including attendance, opioid abstinence, and methadone stabilization. Participants who discontinued treatment displayed poor engagement, abnormal cortisol, elevated withdrawal symptoms, higher distress, and increased ongoing opioid use versus compliant individuals. Discontinuation was initially related to drug-use severity; however, by 6 months, retention depended primarily upon cortisol abnormalities, which increased an individual's discontinuation risk by 7.7-fold. These findings support admission screening with the ASI/cortisol for drop out, and stress/drug-use indices for engagement that together may enable clinically-relevant early recognition and interventions for prevention of stress-induced relapse in opioid-dependent populations.

Keywords: Methadone maintenance treatment; Opioid dependence; Relapse risk; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence / psychology*
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / psychology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Methadone
  • Hydrocortisone