Planned Versus Actual Duration of Drug Abuse Treatment: Reconciling Observational and Experimental Evidence

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The purpose of the study was to evaluate the associations of planned versus actual duration of drug abuse treatment with psychosocial outcomes and drug use at followup. A randomized trial was conducted in a modified therapeutic community in which 444 clients were assigned to programs with planned durations of either 3 or 6 months. Outcomes were psychosocial measures assessing changes in mood and in stage of behavior change between admission and exit and return to drug use and patterns of use 2 to 6 months after exit. Planned duration was not associated with any of the outcomes. A longer actual length of stay was, however, associated with greater improvements in the mood variables; lower rates of drug use at follow-up; and, among those using drugs at follow-up, a longer time from exit to first drug use. Intention-to-treat analyses supported these results. Randomized controlled trials are needed to distinguish the effects of planned duration and actual length of stay.

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