Background: The majority of adolescents treated for substance use disorder (SUD) in the United States are now referred by the criminal justice system. Little is known, however, regarding how justice-system involvement relates to adolescent community treatment outcomes. Controversy exists, also, over the extent to which justice system involvement reflects a lack of intrinsic motivation for treatment. This study examined the relation between justice system referral and reported reason for treatment entry and tested the extent to which each predicted treatment response and outcome.
Method: Adolescent outpatients (N = 127; M age = 16.7, 24% female) with varying levels of justice-system involvement (i.e., no justice system involvement [No-JSI; n = 63], justice-system involved [JSI; n = 40], justice system involved-mandated [JSI-M; n = 24]) and motivation levels (i.e., self-motivated [n = 40], externally-motivated [n = 87]) were compared at treatment intake. Multilevel mixed models tested these groups’ effects on percent days abstinent (PDA) and odds of heavy drinking (HD) over 12 months.
Results: JSI-M were less likely to be self-motivated compared to No-JSI or JSI (p = 0.009). JSI-M had higher PDA overall, but with significant declines over time, relative to no-JSI. Self-motivated patients did not differ from externally-motivated patients on PDA or HD.
Conclusions: Mandated adolescent outpatients were substantially less likely to report self-motivated treatment entry. Despite the notion that self-motivated treatment entry would be likely to produce better outcomes, a judicial mandate appears to predict an initially stronger treatment response, although this diminishes over time. Ongoing monitoring and/or treatment may be necessary to help maintain treatment gains for justice system-involved adolescents.