The Evidence for Residential Treatment Services

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25 January 2017

The effective treatment of alcohol and drug addiction must include access to residential treatment centres, according to a new review.

Carried out by Sheffield Hallam University's Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice (HKC) in association with Phoenix Futures, the review looked at a range of international evidence to establish whether residential treatment improves an individual's recovery outcomes.

The measures of recovery were not restricted to alcohol and drug use but also included assessments of offending and criminal justice involvement, employment, housing and quality of life.

The overall conclusion was that an effective and recovery-oriented treatment system must include ready access to residential treatment for alcohol and drug users for those with more complex needs and those who are committed to an abstinence-based recovery journey.

The review also found while there is a primary focus on reductions in substance use and offending behaviour as a benefit of residential treatment, there is substantial evidence showing benefits in areas including physical and mental health, housing stability and employment.

The cost of residential treatment was also considered as part of the review, and whilst more expensive, there is evidence to suggest that the initial costs of residential treatment are to a large extent offset by reductions in subsequent healthcare and criminal justice costs.

A further conclusion related to length of stay, with longer duration of treatment and treatment completion in residential recovery both strong predictors of better outcomes for the service users. 

The launch event for the review, held at the HKC, was attended by stakeholders from across the recovery sector in the UK, including service users, commissioners, service providers, peer services representatives and researchers. 

Professor David Best, head of criminology at the HKC and world leading expert in recovery, said at the launch: "This review comes at an important time with funding for alcohol and drug treatment under great pressure. 

"Service users, providers and commissioners all share a desire and need for a clear evidence base in order to allocate critical and limited resources effectively and efficiently. What is clear from the evidence is that any system that claims to be recovery-oriented and evidence-based must have a strong and diverse range of residential treatment options with appropriate aftercare and ongoing housing support.

"This review is intended to increase knowledge and understanding of the operation of this sector of alcohol and drug treatment services and guide decisions towards enhancing and improving outcomes.

"Overall, this review demonstrates a strong and consistent evidence base supportive of the benefits of residential treatment that derives both from treatment outcome studies and randomised trials - and it must be concluded that residential treatment should be made readily available to alcohol and drug users who are engaging with recovery services."

Click here to access the Evidence Review