A randomized controlled trial of Structural Ecosystems Therapy for HIV medication adherence and substance abuse relapse prevention

Daniel J. Feaster, Victoria B. Mitrani, Myron J. Burns, Brian E. McCabe, Ahnalee M. Brincks, Allan E. Rodriguez, Deshratn Asthana, Michael S. Robbins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Background: Substance abuse in women with HIV/AIDS overshadows other priorities, including health care. Substance abuse may cause women to avoid health care systems and not adhere to their medication regimen. Methods: A randomized controlled trial tested the efficacy of Structural Ecosystems Therapy (SET) relative to a psychoeducational Health Group (HG) in 126 HIV+ women in recovery. SET, a 4-month intervention, focused on building family support for relapse prevention and HIV medication adherence. Over 12-month follow-up, women were assessed for drug use and medication adherence every 2 months; CD4 T-cell count and HIV viral load were assessed every 4 months. Results: Levels of drug use did not differ by condition. There was a significant difference in curvature of the rates of change in drug use with SET increasing and then decreasing and HG decreasing and then increasing. Women in SET were more likely to increase substance abuse services in response to relapse and separate from drug using household members than were women in HG. These two changes explained the decline in drug use observed within SET between 6 and 12 months. SET showed declines in medication adherence but increases in CD4 T-cell count relative to HG. The increase in CD4 T-cell count in SET was related to increasing proportions of women in SET taking antiretroviral medications. Conclusion: The results of the trial were mixed. Women in SET did not show better drug use or medication adherence outcomes, but did show improvement in CD4 T-cell count and theoretical mechanisms of action on drug relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-234
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010


  • Family therapy
  • HIV infection
  • Minority women
  • Relapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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