A longitudinal analysis of PTSD and other mental health symptoms among people sentenced to drug treatment court

Psychol Trauma. 2023 Sep;15(6):1022-1026. doi: 10.1037/tra0001125. Epub 2021 Sep 30.


Objective: Drug treatment courts offer an alternative to incarceration for people who are facing criminal charges related to addiction. Because addiction commonly co-occurs with trauma exposure and associated mental illnesses, drug treatment courts likely serve people with these difficulties. Yet whether or how mental health symptoms change over drug treatment court participation has not been studied.

Method: We sought to (1) describe the mental health symptom profiles, including PTSD, of recent drug court enrollees, (2) examine the course of these symptom profiles at baseline, 6-month follow-up, and 12-month follow-up, and (3) test posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and gender as potential moderators of any identified time effects. Participants were 983 adults sentenced to drug treatment court between 2009 and 2017.

Results: Generalized linear mixed models revealed a significant effect of time on PTSS as measured by the PTSD Checklist and on summary indices of mental health measured by the Brief Symptom Inventory (p < .05 for all the outcomes). Gender did not moderate the effect of time on either outcome. However, those with PTSS above the clinical cut-off at baseline experienced less improvement in mental health over time.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that drug treatment court participants' mental health, including PTSS, improved over time. However, the presence of elevated PTSS interfered with improvements in other facets of mental health. Additional work is needed to identify specific program components that may exert causal effects and to examine interventions for PTSS that can be readily integrated in drug treatment courts. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Psychotherapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology