Effectiveness of mutual aid at residential rehabilitation services

February 2020
Best, D., Manning, V., Allsop, S. and Lubman, D. (2019). Does the effectiveness of mutual aid depend on compatibility with treatment philosophies offered at residential rehabilitation services? Addictive Behaviors, 103. DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.106221

Background: Residential rehabilitation treatment (including both Therapeutic Communities (TC) and non-TC rehabs) is a key component of service delivery for people seeking treatment for substance use disorders in Australia and globally. While mutual aid is often associated with better long-term outcomes, there is little evidence about whether inconsistencies between residential rehabilitation philosophies and particular types of mutual aid influence subsequent engagement and treatment outcomes.

Objective: To assess the uptake of mutual aid groups (12-step and other) on individuals leaving TC (n = 58) or non-TC (n = 78) residential treatment, and measure its impact on substance use outcomes.

Methods: Using secondary analysis of existing data, the current paper reports on 12-month outcomes from a prospective cohort study of 230 individuals entering specialist alcohol and other drug residential rehabilitation treatment in two Australian states.

Results: Participants who attended TC settings were more likely to attend non-spiritual mutual aid groups (i.e., SMART Recovery) than non-TC residents. Engaging in mutual aid groups was associated with significantly improved outcomes for the non-TC residents only, where it significantly predicted abstinence (OR = 5.8, CI = 1.5–18.46) and reduced frequency of use of participants’ primary drug of concern (OR = 8.6, CI = 2.6–28.6).

Conclusions/Importance: Although 12-step is the most readily available and accessible form of mutual aid in Australia and benefited those attending non-TC residential rehabilitation, individuals exiting a TC program (whether they have completed treatment or not) may benefit from other forms of post-treatment recovery support, including alternative forms of peer-based support. The findings suggest treatment outcomes may be enhanced when the philosophies of residential treatment and post-discharge mutual aid are more compatible.