Complementary horse-assisted therapy for substance use disorders: a randomized controlled trial [2020]

Treatment completion is the greatest challenge for the treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs). A previous investigation showed that complementary horse-assisted therapy (cHAT) was associated with higher retention in treatment and completion than standard treatment alone. This randomized controlled trial further explored the benefits of cHAT for patients with SUDs.

Fifty patients in residential SUD treatment at the Department of Addiction Treatment, Oslo University Hospital, were randomly allocated to either cHAT (cHAT group) or treatment as usual alone (TAU-only group). The primary end-point was treatment completion. Secondary end-points were dropout, transfer to another treatment, and time in treatment.

The multinomial logistic regression analysis found no statistically significant association between intervention (cHAT) and treatment outcome (completion, dropout, transferred) among the 37 participants who were ultimately recruited to the study. Some unforeseen challenges were encountered in the study: a high number of subjects transferred to another treatment, variable attendance at cHAT sessions, and long temporary exits. Nevertheless, 44% of participants in the cHAT group completed their treatment, compared with 32% in the TAU-only group; this observation encourages further investigation in a larger sample.

Though no association was identified between cHAT and treatment retention or completion, our study may have been underpowered. Further work in a larger clinical population is needed; observational studies with repeated measures may also be useful for investigating whether cHAT increases retention in treatment or rates of completion, two important factors for successful SUD treatment.

Francesca Gatti, Espen Walderhaug, Ann Kern-Godal, Jeanette Lysell & Espen Ajo Arnevik
Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, Volume 15, Article number: 7 (2020)