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Original Article
February 2005

The Effectiveness of Telephone-Based Continuing Care for Alcohol and Cocaine Dependence: 24-Month Outcomes

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (Drs McKay, Lynch, and Pettinati); Treatment Research Institute, Philadelphia, Pa (Dr McKay); and Schneider Institute for Health Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass (Dr Shepard).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(2):199-207. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.2.199

Context  Telephone-based disease management protocols have shown promise in improving outcomes in a number of medical and psychiatric disorders, but this approach to continuing care has received little study in alcohol- and drug-dependent individuals.

Objective  To compare telephone-based continuing care with 2 more intensive face-to-face continuing care interventions.

Design  A randomized 3-group clinical trial with a 2-year follow-up.

Setting  Two outpatient substance abuse treatment programs, one community-based and the other at a Veterans Affairs medical center facility.

Patients  Alcohol- and/or cocaine-dependent patients (N = 359) who had completed 4-week intensive outpatient programs.

Interventions  Three 12-week continuing care treatments: weekly telephone-based monitoring and brief counseling contacts combined with weekly supportive group sessions in the first 4 weeks (TEL), twice-weekly cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention (RP), and twice-weekly standard group counseling (STND).

Main Outcome Measures  Percentage of days abstinent from alcohol and cocaine, total abstinence from alcohol and cocaine, negative consequences of substance use, cocaine urine toxicological results, and γ-glutamyltransferase.

Results  Participants in TEL had higher rates of total abstinence over the follow-up than those in STND (P<.05). In alcohol-dependent participants, 24-month γ-glutamyltransferase levels were lower in TEL than in RP (P = .005). In cocaine-dependent participants, there was a significant group × time interaction (P = .03) in which the rate of cocaine-positive urine samples increased more rapidly in RP as compared with TEL. On percentage of days abstinent or negative consequences of substance use, TEL did not differ from RP or STND. Participants with high scores on a composite risk indicator, based on co-occurring alcohol and cocaine dependence and poor progress toward achieving intensive outpatient program goals, had better total abstinence outcomes up to 21 months if they received STND rather than TEL, whereas those with lower scores had higher abstinence rates in TEL than in STND (P = .04).

Conclusions  Telephone-based continuing care appears to be an effective form of step-down treatment for most patients with alcohol and cocaine dependence who complete an initial stabilization treatment, compared with more intensive face-to-face interventions. However, high-risk patients may have better outcomes if they first receive group counseling continuing care after completing intensive outpatient programs.