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Finding sobriety, and saving money, through spirituality

  • Skepticism abounds regarding the role of "faith-based" groups in achieving and maintaining sobriety.
  • Yet treatment programs - both spiritual and cognitive-behavioral in approach - have the same inpatient costs and clinical outcomes.
  • One study found that spiritually oriented programs have lower post-discharge costs and a higher rate of abstinence.
  • Fellowship provided by faith-based groups may be the key.
Addiction treatment, like many other aspects of health care, does not entail a standard, paint-by-number approach. There exists a wide spectrum of treatment options. On one end lies the medical approach, such as cognitive-behavioral treatment. On the opposite end are "faith-based" initiatives such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). A study in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research evaluates the post-discharge health-care utilization and associated costs of these two very different types of approaches.

Inpatient treatment costs and clinical outcomes are approximately the same notwithstanding which of the two approaches is chosen, said Keith Humphreys, assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, and the study's lead author. "We found that the staffing levels, three-to-four week lengths of stay, and costs were fairly similar regardless of the specific nature of the two types of treatment we examined," he said. Clinical outcomes - defined as whether or not the patients stopped using drugs and alcohol, stopped having addiction-related problems such as conflicts at work and/or with their families, and/or enjoyed good mental health (such as the absence of depression, worries, nervousness, emotional upset) - were likewise comparable.

The focus of Humphreys' study, however, was on the care provided in the year after discharge from inpatient treatment, when costs are very different. "Patients with serious drug and alco
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Contact: Keith Humphreys, Ph.D.
knh@stanford.edu
650-617-2746
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research
14-May-2001


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