Socio-demographic Characteristics & Consumption Patterns of Drug Users in a TC

The Quinta das Lapas therapeutic community (Dianova Portugal)


The study by Pr. Susana Henriques and Dr. Pedro Candeias was published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Communities

The purpose of the paper by Pr. Susana Henriques and Dr. Pedro Candeias (Study & Research Center in Sociology, University Institute of Lisbon – Portugal) was to present and discuss the general characteristics of about 200 drug users treated in a therapeutic community (TC), one of the existing treatment solutions to help drug users overcome their addiction and pursue reintegration.

It is the first phase of a planned longitudinal study which aims to map the socio-demographic characteristics and substance-abuse patterns of patients treated in this TC over an extended period of time. The analysis was also the first empirical approach to this group in terms of socio-economic and demographic characteristics, substances and patterns of use.

Quinta das Lapas

The researchers have chosen to conduct their study in an institution with a therapeutic program offering empirical guarantees of control over quality indicators.

The Dianova Quintas das Lapas TC in Portugal was chosen for being the only one in this country with a treatment program certified for quality (ISO 9001:2000). The data provided by the Dianova Association’s users database were statistically analyzed a with a focus on people treated between 1999 and 2009 and clinically discharged after having completed their therapeutic process (discharge due to transfer, dropout or expulsion were discarded).

The authors mentioned that the analysis focused on a specific group of drug users, i.e. those determined to stop using drugs. The latter represent in effect a small part among the heterogeneous group of substance abusers: previous studies have shown that only one-third of drug addicts chose to undergo a treatment program and that only a small number of users wishing to break with their consumption habit resort to formal help. In addition, apart from TCs, substance abusers in search of formal help have recourse to a wide range of treatment options including treatment facilities for alcohol and other drugs and, twelve-step-based self-help groups and recovery programs.

The primary objective of the study was to ascertain the sociodemographic characteristics and substance-abuse patterns of patients admitted to a therapeutic community, the interest of this exercise laying in the fact that little information is known about the population profile for this type of services in Portugal

This analysis of the sociodemographic data, social networks and resources, prior treatment history and substance use of the patients discharged at least for one year, permitted to draw an initial portrait of a population consisting of compulsive users of heroin (74%), alcohol (11%) and other substances in multiple use situations, with low school attainment and qualifications that reflected in their occupation (70 percent were unemployed), and receiving support from their families.

Populations dependent on cannabinoids or synthetic substances have not been identified in the study which corroborates recent studies that stressed their having different socioeconomic characteristics than those found in this study. The researchers therefore believe that it could be explained by the lack of appropriate solutions available to a population with new requirements emerging from changes in consumption patterns and types of substance used. This highlights the need for future research to focus on the relationship between consumption profiles and the availability of treatment opportunities.

According to researchers, although Quinta das Lapas has been, like other TCs, developing techniques for dealing with users of less traditional drugs who seldom resort to these types of treatment programs, it seems to have difficulties to distance itself from its initial target population.

In order to renew its successes with other segments of the drug users population in search of treatment solutions, the TC may have to go through specific communication strategies or implement separate initiatives or programs tailored to the needs of “new drug” users, and, as a result, avoid further confining itself to ‘heroin and alcohol users with low qualifications’.

Based on this initial portrait, the researchers’ next aim will be to shed some light on this population’s means and strategies to manage their social reintegration and achieve a regular social life in the post-treatment period. And, drug users being often perceived as a deviant group due to their substance abuse and dependence, it will be interesting, among other matters, to find out how they are dealing with the social stigma associated with their previous condition, and how they are building new, drug-free social networks.

  • “Socio-demographic characteristics and consumption patterns of drug users – synthesis of outcome research at a TC for a 10-year range” in Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, Vol. 36 Iss 2, pp. 50-61 (2015)
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