Substance Abuse Group Education: Does it work?

In this Q&A with United Community Services, we examine the best practices in Substance Abuse Group Education. Can this program work for your organization? More here.

minute read

Yes, Substance Abuse Group Education works to identify possible drug or alcohol abuse problems among court ordered participant. Learn more about what the program includes, and save your questions for the end. In fact, we try to respond to all questions with a personal and prompt reply.

What do you REALLY know about drugs?

Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs or alcohol. It is often mistakenly assumed that substance abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using simply by choosing to change their behavior. So, do we addicts and alcoholics really know enough about substance abuse to help keep sober? How can we better understand addiction?

In this interview, we have invited United Community Services (UCS) to talk with us about best practices in managing group educational sessions about substance abuse. They are a treatment center based in Des Moines, Iowa, with other Iowa locations including Knoxville and Ankeny, Iowa. UCS has offered a successful substance abuse educational program for about four years.

Experts in adult education

Today, we speak with Jean Brown, Substance Abuse Group Education (SAGE) counselor at UCS, who gives us some insight into their education program for deterring alcohol and drug use. UCS treats 100-120 people per year in the SAGE program, plus hundred of others for outpatient group and individual therapy for substance use disorders, medication assisted treatment, mental health therapy, psychiatric care and primary health care.

Here, Jean shares with us information about how UCS runs this unique treatment program. Then, we invite your questions about SAGE at the end.

ADDICTION BLOG: How many substance abuse education programs are currently running across the U.S.?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: We would direct you to prevention for that type of nationwide information.

ADDICTION BLOG: Who attends these programs and why?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: Typically, our clients in SAGE are referred by the courts: probation officers and the Department of Transportation. In many cases, the judge has promised them a deferred sentence if they complete the five-week session and stay clean.

SAGE is a five-week commitment that meets once a week, that requires a urine test at beginning and end, so it gives the person enough time abstaining as well as information and education to personally assess if they might have a more serious problem.

ADDICTION BLOG: Are participants usually court ordered or referred by private medical practices or both? How do you set up these relationships and report back on client success?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: Usually, SAGE clients are court ordered.

We have a long history of working cooperatively with the judicial system and with other medical providers. Once the five-week SAGE session is complete and obligations are fulfilled, UCS issues a completion letter to any legal authorities as required. If the patient wishes to have other medical providers or attorney informed, they are required give us permission to release that information.

ADDICTION BLOG: How effective is the program in terms of completion and related drug or crime charges?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: We have 98% completion rate – meaning that nearly everyone who begins SAGE attends all five classes – and approximately 90% will graduate with a successful (clean) urinalysis after week five.

ADDICTION BLOG: How effective is the program in terms of deterring alcohol and/or drug use?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: We do not track clients unless they come back to us as a patient in our outpatient program. Most are low risk – they’ve had one incident with the law and it typically helps them figure out how to change.

ADDICTION BLOG: Tell us a little about the Substance Abuse Group Education program that you run at United Community Services. What are some of the best practices that you’re using?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: This is a purely educational curriculum discussing opiates, methamphetamine and other stimulants, marijuana, alcohol and the disease model. The class is five weeks long with urinalysis provided at both intake and discharge-the thought behind that requirement is that if patients cannot abstain for this short period of time there may be more of an issue. If the final urinalysis is positive, counseling staff will refer to a higher level of care within our Outpatient treatment program.

ADDICTION BLOG: What techniques do you use to raise motivation in the group?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: We talk a lot about how they are handling themselves, but much of the time it becomes peer-to-peer counseling. They tell each other how they are doing, what they are doing to stay clean, etc. They give each other advice about how to stay on track – how to get a good night’s sleep, how to eat better, etc.

ADDICTION BLOG: How often do you invite guest speakers to the sessions who have overcome addiction?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: We don’t. Our SAGE program manager conducts all five sessions.

ADDICTION BLOG: How replicable is the SAGE program?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: We are one of the few, perhaps only, program like this in our area, but it is something that organizations could likely replicate.

The course requires two hours of time per week for five weeks. The first hour is an educational video we choose from different resources. The second hour is discussion and sharing of personal stories.

ADDICTION BLOG: What do you think is going to be the future of group education programs? How can they be enhanced or made to be more effective?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: The judicial and law enforcement communities currently seem to be more aware about substance use disorders and are sending more first time offenders to educational programs like SAGE versus assigning jail time. If the participant does it right, they generally stay clean and get on with their life.

The age range of SAGE participants are generally 19-30 and they are 75% male. The group discussions seem to be the portion that is most effective. You could replicate the class online, but the face-to-face interaction is really valuable.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

UNITED COMMUNITY SERVICES: We receive incredible feedback from our clients. They talk about how much they learn about different drugs, including their lack of understanding of what the drugs do to their body and mind.

Many learn through the five-week program what is preventing them from accomplishing their short and long-term goals. Recent comments include:

  • “I feel great, I’ve been clean for about three months.The people who shared what they knew and videos I saw taught me a lot.”
  • “The progress I made was great.This class has made me want a clear head forever and I will stay clean because of it.”
  • “It’s great to come here and express our feelings and to find ways to have a positive life.”
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
I am ready to call
i Who Answers?