Waiting for inpatient detoxification: A qualitative analysis of patient experiences

Joanne Neale*, Beth Cairns, Kevin Gardiner, Wulf Livingston, Trevor McCarthy, Andrew Perkins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: There is limited provision of inpatient detoxification relative to other treatments for alcohol and other drug (AOD) use. This means people often need to wait prior to detoxifying. However, waiting for healthcare is generally perceived as negative and stressful. This paper aims to understand patients’ experiences of waiting for inpatient AOD detoxification to ascertain whether and how service-level policies and practices might be improved. Methods: Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 32 people (20 males, 12 females; aged 25–67 years) who were waiting for inpatient detoxification. Data collection was part of a wider evaluation of a policy initiative started in 2021 to increase detoxification service capacity in England, UK. Interviews were professionally transcribed and data on waiting experiences were coded using qualitative software. Analyses were informed by new materialist thinking and undertaken via Iterative Categorisation. Results: We found that waiting was constituted through five dimensions: i. duration; ii. support; iii. information; iv. preparations; and v. emotions. These five dimensions were multi-faceted and operated in and through wider interacting social, material, and affective forces (e.g., professional judgements, formal and informal relationships, the availability of beds and funding, bureaucratic procedures, the utility and relevance of information, and participants’ diverse feelings, including desperation for treatment). Not all accounts of waiting were negative. The experience was complex, non-uniform and variable over time. Moreover, it affected how people felt and how they behaved. Conclusions: Changes to service-level policies and practices can potentially minimise the stress of waiting for inpatient AOD detoxification. The negative impact of waiting may be reduced if professionals more consistently engage patients in a wider range of constructive pre-treatment activities, offer regular ‘check-ins’ to mitigate any anxiety, explain changes in wait duration to help with planning and demonstrate fairness, and facilitate contact between those waiting to lessen feelings of isolation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104291
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Detoxification
  • Inpatient
  • New materialism
  • Patient experiences
  • Waiting


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