Alcohol and other drug (AOD) use in Australia contributes to a significant burden of physical and social harms, including chronic disease, mental illness, injury, substance dependence and premature death (AIHW 2018). Support for those who use alcohol and drugs, as well as their families and friends, are available through specialist AOD treatment services. These services may provide several treatment types to those seeking treatment for their own AOD use, ranging from providing one-off information and education sessions to residential rehabilitation programs and withdrawal management.
Due to the chronic nature of alcohol and drug dependence, clients seeking AOD treatment often experience cycles of treatment, recovery, relapse and repeated treatment (Lubman D et al 2014). When entering AOD treatment, clients and services will identify the clients’ goals and develop a treatment plan accordingly. Such goals could include the abstinence from, or managed use of a substance and develop a treatment plan accordingly. While treatment objectives vary from client to client, specialist AOD treatment commonly involves multiple episodes of different treatment types over time. For example, a treatment plan might include assessment, supervised withdrawal and rehabilitation, and multiple episodes of follow-up counselling (Kelly JF et al 2019; Lubman D et al 2014).
Studies in both Australian and international contexts have found that stable retention in treatment over time is a predictor of more positive treatment outcomes (AIHW 2011; Lubman D et al 2014). As AOD treatment is often structured around multiple discrete treatment episodes, client engagement over the course of treatment can be examined through how each episode ends. For example:
- Treatment episodes ending as planned (such as where the client has met their treatment goals or by mutual agreement with the service) may indicate more positive client engagement with services.
- Conversely, treatment ending with an unplanned completion (such as a client ceasing to participate against advice or without notice) may indicate less effective engagement between a service and a client.
As such, understanding how clients end each treatment episode is important to the design and delivery of effective treatment services.