This study examined characteristics of 296 alcohol and/or drug abuse clients assigned to either (1) in-patient programmes, (2) out-patient programmes, or (3) a lower cost primary care alternative. Multivariate analysis indicated that clients admitted for in-patient care reported greater alcohol consumption and associated problems, fewer community supports and more severe symptoms such as depression and anxiety. They tended to be more frank about their problems while defence mechanisms were more apparent in clients admitted to out-patient and primary care programmes. In general, out-patients ahd more favourable prognostic indicators, such as higher social stability and lower level of alcoholic involvement. The differences among treatment programmes were along quantitative dimensions of problem severity. In particular, the alcohol dependence syndrome was a major discriminating dimension.