Background: Neither the durability of brief ambulatory treatments for cocaine dependence nor the relative ability of psychotherapy vs pharmacotherapy to effect lasting change has been evaluated in well-controlled randomized trials.
Methods: We conducted a 1-year naturalistic follow-up of 121 ambulatory cocaine abusers who underwent psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention or clinical management) and pharmacotherapy (desipramine hydrochloride or placebo) in a 2 x 2 design. Subjects were interviewed 1, 3, 6, or 12 months after the termination of a 12-week course of outpatient treatment. Eighty percent (n = 97) of the subjects who were randomized to treatment were followed up at least once.
Results: First, the effects of study treatments appeared durable over the follow-up; as for the full sample, measures of cocaine use indicated either improvement or no change over posttreatment levels. Second, abstinence during treatment was strongly associated with less cocaine use during follow-up. Third, random effects regression models indicated significant psychotherapy-by-time effects, suggesting a delayed improved response during follow-up for patients who received cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention compared with supportive clinical management.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest a delayed emergence of the effects of cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention, which may reflect the subjects' implementation of the generalizable coping skills conveyed through that treatment. Moreover, these data underline the importance of conducting follow-up studies of substance abusers and other groups because delayed effects may occur after the cessation of short-term treatments.