Jul 28, 2021

Substance Use Disorder: Can Weighted Blankets help?

Substance use disorders have been on the rise, which is evidence enough that we need to study more accessible treatment options. Weighted blankets may be the...

Substance use disorders have been on the rise, and the pandemic exacerbated its prevalence. The topic of substance misuse is controversial and there are split beliefs on the development and maintenance of substance use disorders. There are tons of factors that come to play when discussing the topic of substance use disorders, and I could write an entire book on these factors and what they may mean. However, as with most things that impact the brain, there is much that we still do not know about the development, maintenance, and prognosis of substance use disorders.

As a mental health professional, I advocate for harm reduction, meaning that I want to see a world where we provide accessible treatment and give people the opportunity to live long and healthy lives. Unfortunately, people face many barriers to accessing mental health treatment including distance to providers and lack of insurance support. These barriers make it essential for researchers and clinicians alike to dive into the problem of substance use disorders to develop treatments and interventions that will help this population. 

To date, the relationship between substance use disorders and weighted blankets has been relatively unexplored in research. However, just this year, one group of researchers embedded a substance use component into their study on weighted blankets’ effects on sleep. Streingrimsson et al. (2021) studied the effects of a weighted blanket prescription on common sleep medication use and substance misusers. They recruited participants from a national registry and included data of participants who had at least one psychiatric disorder and were prescribed a weighted blanket. Participants recruited for the study must have had any of the diagnoses outlined in Figure 1. 

inclusionary diagnoses including substance use disorder
Figure 1. Inclusionary Diagnoses

Within the sample of participants, there was a subgroup that had a substance use disorder with alcohol, sedatives, or other/unspecified. The country where this study was conducted provides prescribed weighted blankets free of cost to patients in need. However, because of the prescriptive nature, there was no report of the exact weight and type of blanket that participants used for the duration of data collection. The researchers reported that the weight in the weighted blankets varied between 3 and 14kg and were weighted with either balls, chains, or fibers. Participants were given a weighted blanket for a year and diagnostic data were collected prior to receiving the weighted blanket and after the one-year mark. 

The results for substance misuse and weighted blankets did not yield significant differences. The number of participants who met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder decreased from 69 to 64, which is not a significant decrease. The number of participants with sedative use disorders and other substance use disorders increased. Due to the nature of the study, which relied on data from a registry, we have no way of knowing what factors could have contributed to the rise and decrease in substance use disorder diagnoses. We also have no way of knowing how the weighted blanket was used, if it was an adequate weight for the participant and its effect on specific symptomatology. 

Substance use Disorder Diagnosis Frequency Pre and Post Weighted Blanket Use

Pre and post data for substance use disorder diagnoses

The researchers offered some speculation on a rationale for the results. They stated that the low sample size and uncertainty with the origin of the assigned diagnosis could explain the unexpected shifts. The researchers believe that participants in the substance misuse subsample may have been assigned a substance use disorder if they did not adhere to sleep medication prescriptions. 

We, as scientists ourselves, have many questions about the relationship between substance misuse and weighted blankets. Substance misuse is a heterogeneous disorder, meaning that two people with alcohol use disorder may present with very different symptomatology and experiences. Because of this heterogeneous nature, it is challenging to study substance use disorder and requires a vetted battery of assessments to help pick apart the data and explore the relationship between substance use and any secondary construct.

We are also curious about the frequency and duration of substance misuse in this subsample as this can play into the results as well. Moreover, we are interested in the comorbidity, or dual diagnoses of those who had a substance use disorder, as this could have impacted the results as well. As we’ve seen in previous research, weighted blankets are able to mitigate anxiety symptoms, so if someone with a substance use disorder has a comorbid anxiety disorder, then weighted blankets may be more effective.

Despite having multiple questions and an unclear result, this is a promising area of research that should be further explored. Given the rising prevalence of substance misuse and lack of resources for treatment, there is a huge need for simple and accessible interventions to mitigate substance misuse symptomatology. We hope to see more related research as time goes on. 

Reference

Steingrimsson, S., Odéus, E., Cederlund, M., Franzén, S., Helgesson, C., Nyström, K., Sondell, J., and Opheim, A. (2021). Weighted blanket and sleep medication use among adults with psychiatric diagnosis – a population-based register study. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1080/08039488.2021.1931713

Veronica

Veronica is a mental health professional who is pursuing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has earned her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and now provides therapy to children and youth in the community agency setting. She has been a part of several studies withiфn the field of psychology, including cognitive psychology, sports psychology, and health psychology. Her current research interests revolve around utilizing mindfulness meditation techniques and how they can impact the health of individuals in various socio-economic settings. She also has research interests revolving around developing and implementing interventions to aid in recovery from substance abuse within the primary care setting.

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