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Major depression in patients with substance use disorders: relationship to 12-Step self-help involvement and substance use outcomes

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Abstract Aims 

Many patients treated for substance use disorders (SUDs) who become involved in 12-Step self-help groups have improved treatment outcomes. However, due to high rates of psychiatric comorbidity and major depressive disorder (MDD), among SUD patients in particular, concerns have been raised over whether these benefits extend to dual diagnosis patients. This study examined the influence of comorbid MDD among patients with SUDs on 12-Step self-help group involvement and its relation to treatment outcome. Design 

A quasi-experimental, prospective, intact group design was used with assessments completed during treatment, and 1 and 2 years postdischarge. Participants 

A total of 2161 male patients recruited during in-patient SUD treatment, of whom 110 had a comorbid MDD diagnosis (SUD-MDD) and 2051 were without psychiatric comorbidity (SUD-only). Findings 

SUD-MDD patients were initially less socially involved in and derived progressively less benefit from 12-Step groups over time compared to the SUD-only group. However, substance use outcomes did not differ by diagnostic cohort. In contrast, despite using substantially more professional out-patient services, the SUD-MDD cohort continued to suffer significant levels of depression. Conclusions 

Treatment providers should allocate more resources to targeting depressive symptoms in SUD-MDD patients. Furthermore, SUD-MDD patients may not assimilate as readily into, nor benefit as much from, traditional 12-Step self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, as psychiatrically non-comorbid patients. Newer, dual-diagnosis-specific, self-help groups may be a better fit for these patients, but await further study.

Keywords: 12-Step; Alcohol treatment; Alcoholics Anonymous; Cocaine Anonymous; Narcotics Anonymous; comorbidity; drug treatment; major depression; mutual help; psychiatric self-help; substance abuse; substance abuse treatment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Center for Healthcare Evaluation, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Healthcare System and Stanford University School of Medicine, Menlo Park, CA, USA

Publication date: 2003-04-01

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