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Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Comprehensive Case Management for Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1998. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 27.)

  • This publication is provided for historical reference only and the information may be out of date.

This publication is provided for historical reference only and the information may be out of date.

Cover of Comprehensive Case Management for Substance Abuse Treatment

Comprehensive Case Management for Substance Abuse Treatment.

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Chapter 1 - Substance Abuse and Case Management: An Introduction

The term case management has appeared in social services literature more than 600 times in the last 30 years, referring to everything from the routing of court dockets through the judicial system to the medical management of a hospitalized patient's care. This TIP uses the term to refer to interventions designed to help substance abusers access needed social services.

Support for the use of case management in this setting developed from both clinical practice and empirical observation suggesting that substance abusers who seek treatment have significant problems in addition to using psychoactive substances. Alcohol or other drug use often damages many aspects of an individual's life, including housing, employment, and relationships (Oppenheimer et al., 1988; Westermeyer, 1989). Clients in substance abuse treatment programs, particularly publicly funded treatment programs, present a variety of associated problems. Many use multiple substances and may be poly-addicted. Many suffer from related health disorders, either caused by their substance abuse - such as liver disease and organic brain disorders - or exacerbated by neglect of health and lack of preventive health care. In addition, some diseases - including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and some strains of hepatitis - are transmitted by substance abuse, either directly or indirectly.

Substance abusers also have a higher incidence of mental health disorders than the general population. Up to 70 percent of individuals treated for substance abuse have a lifetime history of depression (Mirin et al., 1988). Between 23 and 56 percent of individuals with diagnosable Axis I mental disorders also have a substance abuse or dependence disorder (Regier et al., 1990).

Substance abuse clients often arrive in treatment programs with numerous social problems as well. Many are unemployed or under-employed, lacking job skills or work experience. Many in publicly funded treatment programs do not have a high school diploma. Some are homeless, and those who have been incarcerated may face significant barriers in accessing safe and affordable housing. Many substance abuse clients have alienated their families and friends or have peer affiliations only with other substance abusers. Women in treatment have often been victims of domestic violence, including sexual abuse; some women in treatment may be living with an abuser. Achieving and maintaining abstinence and recovery nearly always requires forming new, healthy peer associations.

A significant number of clients in treatment are also under some form of control by the criminal justice system. Criminal justice substance abuse clients represent more than half of all clients in treatment in many state and local jurisdictions. Although those afflicted by chemical addiction are found among all socioeconomic groups, persons already plagued by poverty, disease, and unemployment are over-represented (CSAT, 1994). Particularly in publicly funded treatment programs, substance abuse clients have limited resources and may lack health insurance. Many are eligible for publicly supported health and social benefits, including Medicare, food stamps, or welfare.

Data suggest that substance abusers who receive professional attention for these additional problems will see improvements in occupational and family functioning and a lessening of psychiatric symptoms (McLellan et al., 1993; McLellan et al., 1982; Moos et al., 1990; Siegal et al., 1995). Clinicians who develop a "helping alliance" with substance abusers have been shown to produce better treatment outcomes than those who do not (Luborsky et al., 1985).

Why Case Management

Because addiction affects so many facets of the addicted person's life, a comprehensive continuum of services promotes recovery and enables the substance abuse client to fully integrate into society as a healthy, substance-free individual. The continuum must be designed to provide engagement and motivation, primary treatment services at the appropriate intensity and level, and support services that will enable the individual to maintain long-term sobriety while managing life in the community. Treatment must be structured to ensure smooth transitions to the next level of care, avoid gaps in service, and respond rapidly to the threat of relapse. Case management can help accomplish all of the above.

Case management is needed because, in most jurisdictions, services are fragmented and inadequate to meet the needs of the substance-abusing population. This lack of coordinated services results from a variety of factors, including

  • Different funding streams. Substance abuse treatment is funded from a variety of sources - block grants, competitive grants, state and local funding, criminal justice funding, and others. The different requirements or goals of these sources can result in a piecemeal approach to programming
  • A focus on program funding rather than system funding
  • Funding focused on single modalities rather than a continuum of care
  • Inadequate funding created by missing pieces in the continuum
  • Waiting lists caused by inadequate funding
  • Barriers between systems (e.g., mental health vs. substance abuse, criminal justice vs. mental health and substance abuse)
  • Lack of incentives geared to client outcome; programs rewarded for process measures, not outcome measures
  • Eligibility/admission criteria that exclude certain clients
  • Lack of agreement on priority for admission/treatment
  • Lack of incentives for programs to work together

Due to the fragmentation of services, the accompanying inefficiency, and a growing scarcity of resources, some form of case management is used with virtually every population that routinely seeks social services. The variability in social services system configurations has led to many different implementations of case management, resulting in conceptual disagreements about case management and difficulty in assessing its value. Inevitably, many of the same issues will arise in the substance abuse setting. This TIP is designed to establish a common starting point for case management work with substance abusers. To address at least some of those conceptual disagreements, the TIP makes several assumptions, including

  1. Case management is a set of social service functions that helps clients access the resources they need to recover from a substance abuse problem. The functions that comprise case management - assessment, planning, linkage, monitoring, and advocacy - must always be adapted to fit the particular needs of a treatment or agency setting. The resources an individual seeks may be external in nature (e.g., housing and education) or internal (e.g., identifying and developing skills).
  2. Advocacy is one of case management's hallmarks. While a professional conducting therapy may speak out on behalf of a client, case management is dedicated to making services fit clients, rather than making clients fit services.
  3. Case management may be implemented by an individual dedicated solely to helping the client access needed resources - a case manager - or by a professional who has this responsibility along with therapeutic or counseling functions. This TIP stresses the intervention rather than the intervener's profession.
  4. The primary difference between case management and therapy is that the former stresses resource acquisition, while the latter focuses on facilitating intra- and interpersonal change. However, case management and therapy are not incompatible. Indeed, both are generally called for in addressing the needs of a majority of substance abuse clients.
  5. When implemented to its fullest, case management challenges the addiction treatment continuum of pretreatment, primary treatment, and aftercare (discussed further in Chapter 2). This occurs because of the advocacy function of case management; the need for case managers to be flexible, community-based, and community-oriented; and the need for case managers to be the primary figures in planning work with the client.

These assumptions are all affected by the setting in which case management is practiced. Practitioners who work with substance abusers do so in methadone maintenance clinics, hospital- and community-based addiction programs, local social service departments, family preservation programs, and storefront community outreach programs. These physical settings are in turn influenced by numerous other factors, including the source(s) of an agency's funding; the agency's mission; staff orientation, education, and training; the agency's treatment philosophy; and the makeup of other social services in a particular geographical area.

Complicating the implementation of case management with substance abusers are three trends that will alter the current manner in which substance abuse treatment and case management are implemented: Managed care, treatment provided in the criminal justice system, and diminishing social services and resources. Managed care uses case management to restrict access to services as well as to facilitate access to services. In addition to the issue of cost containment, the movement of a great deal of substance abuse treatment (and thereby case management) into criminal justice venues is significant. The potential conflicts between coerced involvement in treatment and case management will test the limits of advocacy and client-driven aspects of the intervention. Finally, unlike the early period of case management, clients and professionals practicing case management now negotiate a drastically constricted menu of services. Each of these contemporary conditions makes implementation and evaluation an increasingly difficult task.

Case Management - A Brief History

More than 70 years ago when Mary Richmond envisioned a cadre of "friendly neighbors" helping others in their struggles with real world needs (Richmond, 1922), she created not only the field of social work, but case management as well. While she applied the term social casework to the activities that affected the adjustment between an individual and the social environment, she could well have been describing the key functions that now comprise case management.

One of the first legislative embodiments of case management occurred in the 1963 Federal Community Mental Health Center Act (Intagliata, 1982) in anticipation of deinstitutionalization, in which persons in long-term psychiatric care were moved into community settings. The expectation that these individuals would need services previously provided in the institution led to the rapid expansion of community-based social services. Unfortunately, these services were often created independently of one another and, coupled with the categorical nature of the eligibility for services, led to difficulties for persons used to having these services provided in institutions. The Community Support System developed by the National Institutes of Mental Health in 1977 envisioned case management as a mechanism for helping clients navigate this fragmented social service system. Accessing these resources would thus enable them to live and function adequately in their communities (Intagliata, 1982; Stein and Test, 1980; Test, 1981; Turner and TenHoor, 1978).

Substance abusers historically were never institutionalized as often as were persons with chronic mental illness and so were not directly impacted by deinstitutionalization legislation. Substance abusers were not generally targeted for the development of categorical systems of service delivery and were not generally recipients of case management services. However, case management-like services were provided to substance abusers under other titles, such as "mission work," and frequently delivered by the clergy or others in skid row missions, detoxification centers, and ad hoc halfway houses. Jails and county work farms were generally the institutions of choice in dealing with this population. Only after substance abuse began to be decriminalized and defined as a disease were substance abusers referred to various social services.

Policymakers in Canada were among the first to translate many generic case management functions into the field of substance abuse treatment, outlining the essential elements of a union of case management and substance abuse treatment (Graham and Birchmore-Timney, 1990; Ogborne and Rush, 1983; Rush and Ekdahl, 1990). Case management for substance abusers initially gained attention in the United States through the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) program (formerly known as Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime), which began linking the criminal justice system with the drug abuse treatment system in 1972 and has grown to over 185 programs (Cook, 1992) today.

A 1987 National Institute of Mental Health initiative funded 13 demonstration projects targeted at young adults with coexisting mental health and substance use problems. Of these 13 projects, 10 identified some form of case management as a primary service and provided a general description of the case management intervention (Teague et al., 1990). Initiatives undertaken by both the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) resulted in numerous projects that used case management to enhance treatment (Bonham et al., 1990; Conrad et al., 1993; Cox et al., 1993; Inciardi et al., 1993; Fletcher et al., 1994; Mejta et al., 1994). Case management in these projects was designed to increase retention in the treatment continuum and to improve treatment outcomes.

Definitions and Functions

Any definition of case management today is inevitably contextual, based on the needs of a particular organizational structure, environmental reality, and prior training of the individuals who are implementing it, whether they are social workers, nurses, or case management specialists. Nonetheless, there is relatively widespread agreement on the basic definition, as illustrated in Figure 1-1.

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Figure 1-1: Definitions of Case Management. Case management is "planning and coordinating a package of health and social services that is individualized to meet a particular client's needs" (Moore, 1990, p. 444) "[a] process or method for ensuring that (more...)

While definitions are useful in guiding general discussions, functions are a more helpful way to approach case management as it is actually practiced. As with definitions, there is a high degree of consensus about a core group of functions. One widely accepted set of functions comprises (1) assessment, (2) planning, (3) linkage, (4) monitoring, and (5) advocacy (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, 1979). The National Association of Social Workers' standards for social work case management include assessing, arranging, coordinating, monitoring, evaluating, and advocacy (National Association of Social Workers, 1992).

There is also general agreement about case management functions in the specific context of substance abuse treatment. Case management is one of eight counseling skills identified by the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, 1986) and one of five performance domains developed in the Role Delineation Study (International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium, 1993).

Another framework is supplied by the Addiction Technology Transfer Centers (ATTCs), established by CSAT to transmit current information on treatment to providers in the field. The essential elements of case management are laid out in their publication Addiction Counseling Competencies: The Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes of Professional Practice (CSAT, 1998). That document has been endorsed by many leading addiction organizations.

Referral and service coordination are two of eight practice dimensions the ATTCs deem essential to the effective practice of addiction counseling. Activities considered part of those two dimensions include engagement; assessment; planning, goal-setting, and implementation; linking, monitoring, and advocacy; and disengagement. The document defines service coordination as: "The administrative, clinical, and evaluative activities that bring the client, treatment services, community agencies, and other resources together to focus on issues and needs identified in the treatment plan. Service coordination, which includes case management and client advocacy, establishes a framework of action for the client to achieve specified goals. It involves collaboration with the client and significant others, coordination of treatment and referral services, liaison activities with community resources and managed care systems, client advocacy, and ongoing evaluation of treatment progress and client needs" (CSAT, 1998, p. 53).

Addiction Counseling Competencies describes the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for all eight practice dimensions. Those supporting referral and service coordination are reproduced in full in Appendix B.

Models of Case Management With Substance Abusers

Case management models, like the definitions of case management, vary with the context. Some models focus on delivering social services, others on coordinating the delivery of services by other providers. Some provide both. The models result as much from the needs of specific client populations and service settings as they do from distinct theoretical differences about what case management should be. Four models from the mental illness field have been adapted for the field of substance abuse treatment. Each of these models - broker/generalist, strengths-based, assertive community treatment, and clinical/rehabilitation - has proved valuable in treating substance abusers in a particular setting.

For example, the strengths-based approach was adapted to work with crack cocaine users. This approach was chosen not only for its focus on resource acquisition but also because it helps clients see their own assets as a valuable part of recovery (Siegal and Rapp, 1996). Assertive community treatment was implemented to provide parolees a wide range of integrated services, including drug treatment, skills building, and resource acquisition.

Figure 1-2 compares the four models across 11 activities of case management and specifies which models are appropriate for particular substance abuse populations. Implementation of these models may vary with other populations and from setting to setting.

Figure 1-2: Models of Case Management.


Figure 1-2: Models of Case Management.


Brokerage/generalist models seek to identify clients' needs and help clients access identified resources. Planning may be limited to the client's early contacts with the case manager rather than an intensive long-term relationship. Ongoing monitoring, if provided at all, is relatively brief and does not include active advocacy.

Brokerage/generalist models are sometimes disparaged in discussions of case management because of the limited nature of the client-case manager relationship and the absence of advocacy. Nonetheless, this approach shares the basic foundations of case management and has proved useful in selected situations. The relatively limited nature of the relationship in this model allows the case manager to provide services to more clients. This approach is also appropriate in instances where treatment and social services in a particular area are relatively integrated and the need for monitoring and advocacy is minimal. The model works best with clients who are not economically deprived, who have significant intent and sufficient resources, or who are not in late-stage addiction. Small agencies or agencies that offer narrowly defined services may be in an ideal position to offer brokerage-only services.

Two creative uses of a brokerage model involved clients who were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or who were at significant risk of acquiring HIV. In one program, case managers also served as educators, delivering cognitive, behaviorally oriented, educational sessions focusing on substance abuse and high-risk behaviors (Falck et al., 1992). The mixing of the educator and case manager roles was intended to increase clients' receptivity to HIV prevention messages by reducing barriers to services that would address problems that might divert attention from those messages. In another variation of the brokerage model, case managers in a large metropolitan area conducted extensive assessments with HIV-infected clients, generally making at least two referrals during the initial session. This "quick response" approach was intended to provide immediate results to clients and to link them with agencies or services that would provide ongoing services (Lidz et al., 1992).

Generalist approaches to working with substance-abusing clients have taken several forms. Case managers in the central intake facility of a large metropolitan area performed the core functions of case management, linking clients with area substance abuse treatment and other human service providers. These case managers had access to funds for purchasing treatment services, thereby drastically reducing waiting periods for these services (Bokos et al., 1993). Another example of a generalist model is Providence, Rhode Island's Project Connect, a family-centered, community-based intervention program designed to address the problems of substance abuse among high-risk families in the child welfare system. Staff members provide intensive home-based counseling services and work with families to obtain other services they may need, including safe and affordable housing and adequate health care.

Assertive Community Treatment

The Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) model, originally developed in Wisconsin (Stein and Test, 1980), emphasizes the following components

  • Making contact with clients in their homes and natural settings
  • Focusing on the practical problems of daily living
  • Assertive advocacy
  • Manageable caseload sizes
  • Frequent contact between a case manager and client
  • Team approach with shared caseloads
  • Long-term commitment to clients

Willenbring and his colleagues were among the first to adapt a mental health model for persons with substance abuse problems, specifically chronic public inebriates (Willenbring et al., 1990). Following the tenets of PACT, an individual case manager was closely supported by a core services team that together carried the responsibility for providing services. The model deviated from the usual approach to dealing with substance abuse clients in two ways. First, instead of expecting clients to come to services when they "hit bottom," case managers sought out clients through a process known as "enforced contact." Second, case managers and the services team acknowledged the chronic nature of the client's condition and sought to modify the course of the condition and to alleviate suffering. The clients were not required to pledge a goal of abstinence.

A derivation of PACT, the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) model, was used with parolees who had histories of injecting drugs (Martin and Scarpitti, 1993). In this implementation, case managers provided direct counseling services and worked with clients to develop the skills necessary to function successfully in the community. Case management staff also provided family consultations and crisis intervention services and functioned as group facilitators to provide skills training in areas such as work skills, relapse prevention, and education about HIV/AIDS. Departing from the mental health tenets of the PACT model, ACT had time limits and success goals rather than the continuous care envisioned for the mentally ill. Achievement of protracted periods of abstinence and graduation from treatment continuum components were expected of clients (Martin and Scarpitti, 1993). Assertive Community Treatment has been implemented alone and in conjunction with a therapeutic community (Martin et al., 1993).

Strengths-Based Perspective

The strengths-based perspective of case management was originally developed at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare to help a population of persons with persistent mental illness make the transition from institutionalized care to independent living (Rapp and Chamberlain, 1985). The foremost two principles on which the model rests are (1) providing clients support for asserting direct control over their search for resources, such as housing and employment, and (2) examining clients' own strengths and assets as the vehicle for resource acquisition. To help clients take control and find their strengths, this model of case management encourages use of informal helping networks (as opposed to institutional networks); promotes the primacy of the client-case manager relationship; and provides an active, aggressive form of outreach to clients.

A strengths perspective of case management has been selected for work with substance abusers for three reasons. First is case management's usefulness in helping them access the resources they need to support recovery. Second, the strong advocacy component that characterizes the strengths approach counters the widespread belief that substance abusers are in denial or morally deficient - perhaps unworthy of needed services (Bander et al., 1987; Ross and Darke, 1992). Last, the emphasis on helping clients identify their strengths, assets, and abilities supplements treatment models that focus on pathology and disease. Strengths-based case management has been implemented with both female (Brindis and Theidon, 1997) and male substance abusers (Rapp, 1997; Siegal et al., 1995).

Because of the advocacy component and client-driven goal planning, a strengths-based approach can at times cause stress between a case manager and other members of the treatment team (Rapp et al., 1994). Despite this, there is evidence that the approach can be integrated with the disease model of treatment and that its presence leads to improved outcomes for clients. The improved outcomes include employability, retention in treatment, and (through retention in treatment) reduced drug use (Rapp et al., in press; Siegal et al., 1996; Siegal et al., 1997).


Clinical/rehabilitation approaches to case management are those in which clinical (therapy) and resource acquisition (case management) activities are joined together and addressed by the case manager. It has been suggested that the separation of these two activities is not feasible over an extended period of time and that the case manager must be trained to respond to client-focused, as opposed to solely environmental issues (Kanter, 1996). Client-focused services could include providing psychotherapy to clients, teaching specific skills, and family therapy. Beyond the usual repertoire of case management functions (e.g., monitoring), the case manager should be aware of numerous issues including transference, countertransference, how clients internalize what they observe, and theories of ego functioning (Harris and Bergman, 1987; Kanter, 1996).

Many substance abuse treatment programs use a clinical model in which the same treatment professional provides, or at least coordinates, both therapy and case management activities. Such an approach is frequently driven by staffing considerations: It is more economical to have one treatment professional provide all services than to have separate clinical and case managers deliver them.

One example of combining clinical and case management activities is found in a program for women who have substance abuse problems (Markoff and Cawley, 1996). In Project Second Beginning, an emphasis on relationships and empowerment is used both to secure needed resources and to guide implementation of therapy activities. This approach is based on the belief that women have special needs in the treatment setting - needs that can most appropriately be addressed through a therapeutic relationship with a single caregiver. The clinical/rehabilitation approach has been widely used in the treatment of persons with diagnoses of both substance abuse and psychiatric problems (Anthony and Farkas, 1982; Drake et al., 1993; Drake and Noordsey, 1994; Lehman et al., 1993; Shilony et al., 1993).


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