OBH Research Findings: Impact on Substance Abuse

The most recent research produced by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC) supports that OBH is effective at improving overall functioning of youth, reducing the use of substances, and engaging resistant clients. We are exploring each of these areas in our spring newsletters. Last month we focused on improving overall functioning, and in this April edition we will explore OBH’s impact on substance abuse.

Impact on Substance Abuse

While not all research has specifically looked at substance use as an outcome, substance use and abuse are most often reported as one of the main presenting problems for youth entering OBH programs (Russell, Gillis, & Lewis, 2008; Tucker, Zelov, & Young, 2011). In a number of studies, clients have reported significantly less substance-related problems at the end of their wilderness treatment compared to when they entered (Russell 2003, 2005). However, we know less about students’ substance-related behaviors after they leave OBH.

Two studies have investigated the impact of OBH on substance use post-treatment. A study of participants from five OBHC programs found significant reductions in the frequency of substance use by participants six-months post OBH treatment (Russell, 2008). More recently, in 2012 a study found that participants from three OBH programs decreased their use of substances at three months post-discharge, and continued this decline at 12 months post-discharge. In other words, rather than fading, the positive changes actually grew over the study’s follow-up period. Researchers also found that the decrease in substance use was significant whether the youth transitioned to a therapeutic program or went home. This suggests that improvements are not just related to limited access to drugs and alcohol (Lewis 2013).

Lewis, S. F. (2012). Examining changes in substance use and conduct problems among treat- ment-seeking adolescents. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 18, 33-38. doi:10.1111/ j.1475-3588.2012.00657.x

Norton, Tucker, Russell, Bettman, Gass, Gillis, & Behrens (2014). Adventure Therapy with Youth. Journal of Experiential Education. 37(1), 46-59.

Russell, K. C. (2003). Assessment treatment outcomes in outdoor behavioral healthcare using the Youth Outcome Questionnaire. Child and Youth Care Forum, 32(6), 355-381.

Russell, K. C. (2005). Two years later: A qualitative assessment of youth-well-being and the role of aftercare in outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment. Child & Youth Care Forum, 34 (3), 209-239.

Russell, K. C. (2008). Adolescent substance-use treatment: Service delivery, research on effectiveness, and emerging treatment alternatives. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 2(2-4), 68-96.

Tucker, A., Zelov, R., & Young, M. (2011). Four years along: Emerging traits of programs in the NATSAP Practice Research Network (PRN). Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, 5(1), 10-28.


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