Telephonic Support Helps Individuals Recovering from Substance Misuse

When people complete a substance abuse program, they are often provided with some form of continuing support to help them transition back to society or back to their previous life without the use of drugs or alcohol. Although continuing support through counseling, group therapy, or other programs of accountability and acceptance have been shown to help decrease relapse, there is still little research examining what components of continuing care work and how. Therefore, David Farabee of the Integrated Substance Abuse Programs and the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California in Los Angeles recently led a study that looked at one commonly used approach in the maintenance of drug abuse treatment. Farabee chose to focus on telephonic support and selected a sample of 302 individuals who recently completed treatment for drug dependency. Upon completion of their programs, the participants received aftercare counseling that included telephonic support or treatment as usual. They were assessed 12 weeks and 12 months after they completed the study.

At 3 months, the participants who received the telephonic support had significantly lower drug composite measures than those who received the treatment as usual. Even though Farabee included four different types of telephonic support and none provided better results than any other, the findings demonstrate that aftercare support delivered regularly is a key component to relapse prevention. When compared to in-person therapy, which can be cost prohibitive and may not be easily accessible, telephone support is a viable and effective alternative. With recent changes to the health-care system and the role the government has in providing adequate and sustainable mental health programs, Farabee hopes that these results will motivate further research in this area. He added, “Subsequent research will assess interactions between patient characteristics and counseling styles, and improved identification of which treatment graduates might be more likely to benefit from this type of continuing support.”

Farabee, D., Cousins, S. J., Brecht, M.-L., Antonini, V. P., Lee, A. B., Brummer, J., Hemberg, J., et al. (2012). A comparison of four telephone-based counseling styles for recovering stimulant users. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029572

Related articles:
Do I Really Have a Drinking Problem?
No Pain, No Gain: Psychotherapy and Mental Health Recovery Take Time

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  • al h

    al h

    August 15th, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    This is a good approach for those in drug abuse therapy who need continuing assistance but don’t have the means to travel.

  • cyrus


    August 15th, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Yes, this shows a great deal of potential for success.
    We have to remember, though, that it is far harder to stay accountable for our actions over the phone than it is in person.
    When you are face to face with someone it is a whole lot easier for them to see whether or not you are lying or playing them
    On the phone, well, if you are a decent actor, you might could get away with some stuff.
    I think that it could be great as a follow up for someone who really is making progress and who is being pretty successful with their treatment and recovery.
    But for someone who is struggling, then maybe there is something out there that may be better for them.

  • Lacey


    August 15th, 2012 at 11:26 PM

    Telephonic support could be a cost effective alternative but Im not sure it will work for everyone.It will not for me.I can never make a real connection with someone on the phone and I even insist on meeting my friends when thereis something important to talk about.telephonic conversations just dont do it for me.

  • Irene


    August 16th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    Ok, so this is not necessarily the best solution, but it is better than doing no kind of follow up. You can’t pat your patients on the back on their way out your door for the last time and wish them good luck and let that be that. There clearly has to be ongoing support and conversation in order for them to get to a point where they do feel that they can do this alone, or that they have developed their own internal support system that they don’t have to hold your hand so much anymore. But to think that everyone will be ready to go it alone after treatment is pretty naive. If it has to be follow up vis the telephone or email or whatever, then reaching out in thsoe small ways is how it has to be. Much better than just cutting those ties and having no contact again at all.

  • pierre d

    pierre d

    August 16th, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    would you say that email or facebook interaction is just as effective?
    or why not skype so there could be that face to face time that could be so valuable even if it is across a distance

  • The Hercules

    The Hercules

    August 16th, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    Well lets think of it this way-You give your car for service and then when you get it back if you do not take regular care of it it is only going to malfunction and have problems.Yes,the service is done by a professional but to sustain that effective and optimal condition of your car,you need regular care taking too.It is not very different for addicts.

  • freezeframe


    August 17th, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    sometimes the best healer is to have a long phone conversation with someone who gets you, knows what makes you tick and has some advice to offer- hopefully that is what many will find with someone as they continue with their therapy and treatment follow ups over the phone

  • B brantley

    B brantley

    August 18th, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    Offering patients support via differing means can be quite useful, but I would not want anyone to think that this could or should ever be a substitute for good old fashioned face to face one on one therapy. I realize that the intent is for this to be utilized as a follow up method of treatment only, but you know that there are people out there who will want this to be the only means through which they seek healing. I just don’t think that this could ever be as beneficial as sitting with someone and getting to know them and having them help you sort it all out. But I guess I would not want to discount it either because for some patients this is the only accessibility that they have, and again, this is better than nothing.

  • nona


    August 19th, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    They still have to be responsible enough to make or take the call when it is the designated time.
    I just hope that those who need this will not let it slide to the wayside as they start to gain confidence and assume that since they may be feeling better that they can allow this part of their therapy to end.
    For most addicts and substance abusers they are not yet ready for that. They obviously still need the support otherwise it would not have been recommended to them.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on