Objective: To determine whether racial and ethnic disparities in publicly funded alcohol treatment completion are due to racial differences in attending outpatient and residential treatment.
Methods: Statistical analysis of alcohol treatment completion rates using alcohol treatment patients’ discharge records from all publicly funded treatment facilities in Los Angeles County from 1998 to 2000 (n = 10,591).
Results: Among these patients, African American (OR = 0.52; 95% CI 0.47, 0.57) and Hispanic (OR = 0.89; 95% CI 0.81, 0.99) patients were significantly less likely to complete treatment as compared with White patients. We found that the odds of being in outpatient versus residential care were 1.42 (95% CI 1.29, 1.55) and 2.05 (95% CI 1.85, 2.26) for African American and Hispanic alcohol treatment patients, respectively, compared with White patients. Adjusting for addiction characteristics, employment, other patient-level factors that might influence treatment enrollment, and unobserved facility-level differences through a random effects regression model, these odds increased to 1.89 (95% CI 1.22, 2.94) for African American and to 2.12 (95% CI 1.40, 3.21) for Hispanics. We developed a conditional probability model to assess the contribution of racial differences in treatment modality to racial disparities in treatment completion. Estimates from this model indicate that were African American and Hispanic patients observed in outpatient care in this population to have the same probability of receiving residential care as White patients with otherwise similar characteristics, the White–African American difference in completion rates would be reduced from 13.64% (95% CI 11.58%, 15.71%) to 11.09% (95% CI 8.77%, 13.23%) and the White–Hispanic difference would disappear, changing from 2.63% (95% CI 0.29%, 4.95%) to −0.45% (−3.52%, 2.43%).
Conclusion: It appears that reductions in racial disparities in treatment completion could be gained by increasing enrollment in residential alcohol treatment for African American and Hispanic alcohol abusers in Los Angeles County. Further research addressing why minority alcohol abusers are less likely to receive residential alcohol treatment should be conducted, as well as research that examines why African American alcohol treatment patients have lower completion rates as compared with White patients regardless of treatment modality.