Predicting substance use disorder treatment follow-ups and relapse across the continuum of care at a single behavioral health center


Introduction: Substance use disorder is often a chronic condition, and its treatment requires patient access to a continuum of care, including inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient programs. Ideally, patients complete treatment at the most suitable level for their immediate individual needs, then transition to the next appropriate level. In practice, however, attrition rates are high, as many patients discharge before successfully completing a treatment program or struggle to transition to follow-up care after program discharge. Previous studies analyzed up to two programs at a time in single-center datasets, meaning no studies have assessed patient attrition and follow-up behavior across all five levels of substance use treatment programs in parallel.

Methods: To address this major gap, this retrospective study collected patient demographics, enrollment, discharge, and outcomes data across five substance use treatment levels at a large Midwestern psychiatric hospital from 2017 to 2019. Data analyses used descriptive statistics and regression analyses.

Results: Analyses found several differences in treatment engagement based on patient-level variables. Inpatients were more likely to identify as Black or female compared to lower-acuity programs. Patients were less likely to step down in care if they were younger, Black, had Medicare coverage were discharging from inpatient treatment, or had specific behavioral health diagnoses. Patients were more likely to relapse if they were male or did not engage in follow-up SUD treatment.

Conclusions: Future studies should assess mechanisms by which these variables influence treatment access, develop programmatic interventions that encourage appropriate transitions between programs, and determine best practices for increasing access to treatment.

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