Why Switch? - Motivations for Self-Substitution of Illegal Drugs

Barak Shapira, Ronny Berkovitz*, Paola Rosca, Shaul Lev-Ran, Alexander Kaptsan, Yehuda Neumark*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Self-substitution is the conscious switch from one drug to another for reasons such as price, availability, desired effect, or perceived benefit of the substitute drug. Purpose/Objectives: This study aimed to describe drug use patterns and motivations associated with substitution. We examined correlates of lifetime substitution among individuals with substance use disorder. Methods: A cross-sectional study of 771 treatment-enrolled individuals. We used self-report for determining the lifetime prevalence, correlates, and motivations for substitution. Results: Of the 771 respondents, 570 (73.9%) reported ever substituting their preferred substance. The main incentives for substitution were availability (23.7%) and curiosity (20.2%). Among heroin or cannabis preferers, improved effects or less adverse effects of the substitute drug, self-medication, and managing withdrawal symptoms were significant substitution incentives. Increased odds for substitution were observed for past 12months use of cannabis (OR = 1.51, CI = 1.06-4.52), prescription opioids (OR = 2.86, CI = 1.81-4.52), novel psychoactive substances (OR = 2.68, CI = 1.64-4.36), and repeated admission (OR = 1.50, CI = 1.05-2.14). Older age at onset-of-use was negatively associated with substitution (OR = 0.95, CI = 0.93-0.98). Conclusions: Self-substitution of one substance for another is a highly prevalent behavior among treatment-enrolled patients with substance use disorder. Clinicians caring for substance use disorder patients should be aware of substitution patterns involving the use of highly potent substances, which constitutes a risk to patients. Results underscore the benefit of substitution patterns analyses, as they reveal important information on the characteristics of persons who use drugs and their motivations.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)627-638
Number of pages12
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

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© 2021 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Substitution
  • cannabis
  • cocaine
  • drugs
  • heroin
  • motivation
  • synthetic cannabinoids


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