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Dropping out of therapeutic community treatment; when is “unsuccessful”, successful?

Laura Aslan (Quality and Performance, Phoenix Futures, Birkenhead, Wirral, United Kingdom.)

Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities

ISSN: 0964-1866

Article publication date: 8 June 2015




It is common for people to view dropping out of substance misuse treatment as an unsuccessful attempt at recovery. The existing literature emphasises that those who drop out of treatment do worse than those who complete their treatment programme. More recently, however, those who discharge early are faring better than ever before.


In total, 13 service users who discharged early from three residential therapeutic communities were interviewed over the phone to discuss life after treatment. Interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis and found four main themes evidencing that “unsuccessful” really can be successful.


The study unearthed significant findings in the area of motivation for continued recovery in that 85 per cent of the sample were actively accessing further substance misuse treatment after leaving the service early. Five participants who had entered treatment as opiate users were all abstaining from Class A drugs at the time of interview; indeed 100 per cent of the sample were opiate free. Furthermore, self-reported psychological health had improved following discharge by 78 per cent.

Practical implications

Recent changes in policy and treatment design within drug treatment services may explain such positive outcomes in that a more responsive programme allows people to gain skills and make changes in a shorter time frame.

Social implications

Indeed, improved early discharge procedures and increased links to aftercare and follow on treatment may have impacted on this finding.


This study therefore proposes the notion of “right dose of treatment” as opposed to “time in treatment” and highlights the importance of exit procedures and aftercare.



Aslan, L. (2015), "Dropping out of therapeutic community treatment; when is “unsuccessful”, successful?", Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 74-88.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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