Interventions and treatments for adolescent substance abuse: Publications guide

Annotated bibliography

Below are some citations and abstracts from publications about interventions and treatment for adolescent substance abuse.

Allen, M. L., Garcia-Huidobro, D., Porta, C., Curran, D., Patel, R., Miller, J., & Borowsky, I. (2016). Effective Parenting Interventions to Reduce Youth Substance Use: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics, 138(2), e20154425.

Context: Parenting interventions may prevent adolescent substance use; however, questions remain regarding the effectiveness of interventions across substances and delivery qualities contributing to successful intervention outcomes.

Objective: To describe the effectiveness of parent-focused interventions in reducing or preventing adolescent tobacco, alcohol, and illicit substance use and to identify optimal intervention targeted participants, dosage, settings, and delivery methods.

Data sources: PubMed, PsycINFO, ERIC, and CINAHL.

Study selection: Randomized controlled trials reporting adolescent substance use outcomes, focusing on imparting parenting knowledge, skills, practices, or behaviors.

Data extraction Trained researchers extracted data from each article using a standardized, prepiloted form. Because of study heterogeneity, a qualitative technique known as harvest plots was used to summarize findings.

Results: A total of 42 studies represented by 66 articles met inclusion criteria. Results indicate that parenting interventions are effective at preventing and decreasing adolescent tobacco, alcohol, and illicit substance use over the short and long term. The majority of effective interventions required ≤12 contact hours and were implemented through in-person sessions including parents and youth. Evidence for computer-based delivery was strong only for alcohol use prevention. Few interventions were delivered outside of school or home settings.

Limitations: Overall risk of bias is high.

Conclusions: This review suggests that relatively low-intensity group parenting interventions are effective at reducing or preventing adolescent substance use and that protection may persist for multiple years. There is a need for additional evidence in clinical and other community settings using an expanded set of delivery methods.

Becker, S., Hernandez, L., Spirito, A., & Conrad, S. (2017). Technology-assisted intervention for parents of adolescents in residential substance use treatment: protocol of an open trial and pilot randomized trial. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 12(1), 1-13.

Adolescents in residential substance use disorder (SUD) treatment have poor outcomes post-discharge, with follow-up studies suggesting that most adolescents relapse within 90 days. Parenting practices directly influence adolescent SUD outcomes, but parents of adolescents with SUDs are difficult to engage in traditional behavioral treatments. The current study adapts and evaluates a technology-assisted intervention for parents of adolescents in residential SUD treatment. Based on pilot qualitative data with parents, adolescents, and residential staff, we augment an existing computerized intervention (Parenting Wisely; PW) with four in-person coaching sessions, personalized text messages, and an expert-moderated online parent message board. We hypothesize that parents will find enhanced PW (PW+) both feasible and acceptable, and that adolescents whose parents receive PW+ will have better post-discharge outcomes than adolescents who receive standard care (SC) only. A two phase approach is used to adapt and evaluate PW+. Phase 1 consists of an open trial with 10 parents of adolescents (age 12–17) in residential SUD treatment. Post-discharge qualitative and quantitative data from parents and adolescents will support PW+ refinement. Phase 2 is a randomized pilot trial with 60 parents testing the effectiveness of adding PW+ to SC. Adolescents and parents will complete assessments at baseline, 6-, 12-, and 24-weeks post-discharge. Primary outcomes will be measures of feasibility and acceptability. Secondary outcomes will include adolescent substance use, truancy, high-risk sexual behavior, and criminal involvement. Two parenting processes (monitoring and communication) are examined as potential mediators of change. This study will adapt and evaluate a technology-assisted parenting intervention as a means of improving adolescent outcomes following residential SUD treatment. Results have the potential to advance the field by: addressing a high-risk population, improving parental engagement; targeting parenting practices (putative mediators of change) that have been linked to adolescent outcomes; and developing a highly disseminable approach.

Black, J. J., & Chung, T. (2014). Mechanisms of change in adolescent substance use treatment: How does treatment work?. Substance Abuse, 35(4), 344-351.

Background: Adolescent substance use treatment outcome research generally shows small to moderate effects in reducing substance use, with no specific “brand” of treatment emerging as clearly superior to any other, and treatment gains that fade over time. The relatively weak and temporary effects of treatment call for improving the potency and durability of intervention effects. In response to this call, this critical narrative review summarizes research on mechanisms of change for both adults and adolescents in substance use treatment, with a particular focus on reviewing what is known regarding “how” adolescent substance use treatment works.

Methods: A comprehensive review of the adolescent (ages 11–18) substance use treatment literature was conducted to identify empirical studies that examined mediators of intervention effects. Relevant databases (e.g., PsychINFO, Medline) were searched using key words (e.g., “mediator”), and relevant articles from reference sections of identified studies and review papers were considered.

Results: Studies of mechanisms of psychotherapy change are rare in the adult, and particularly adolescent, substance use treatment outcome literature. The four adolescent studies that examined substance use treatment mechanisms found that positive social support, motivation to abstain, and positive parenting behaviors mediated treatment effects. To date, research has not supported therapy-specific mechanisms of change, finding instead that “common” processes of change largely account for improvements in outcome across distinct “brands” of treatment.

Conclusions: The lack of empirical support for treatment-specific mechanisms of change may be due to the need for greater precision in defining and measuring treatment-specific causal chains. Future directions include neuroscience approaches to examining changes in brain functioning that are associated with treatment response and recovery and examining mechanisms in adaptive treatment designs, which can accommodate individual differences in targets for intervention and response to treatment.

Das, J. K., Salam, R. A., Arshad, A., Finkelstein, Y., & Bhutta, Z. A. (2016). Interventions for adolescent substance abuse: An overview of systematic reviews. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(4), S61-S75.

Many unhealthy behaviors often begin during adolescence and represent major public health challenges. Substance abuse has a major impact on individuals, families, and communities, as its effects are cumulative, contributing to costly social, physical, and mental health problems. We conducted an overview of systematic reviews to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions to prevent substance abuse among adolescents. We report findings from a total of 46 systematic reviews focusing on interventions for smoking/tobacco use, alcohol use, drug use, and combined substance abuse. Our overview findings suggest that among smoking/tobacco interventions, school-based prevention programs and family-based intensive interventions typically addressing family functioning are effective in reducing smoking. Mass media campaigns are also effective given that these were of reasonable intensity over extensive periods of time. Among interventions for alcohol use, school-based alcohol prevention interventions have been associated with reduced frequency of drinking, while family-based interventions have a small but persistent effect on alcohol misuse among adolescents. For drug abuse, school-based interventions based on a combination of social competence and social influence approaches have shown protective effects against drugs and cannabis use. Among the interventions targeting combined substance abuse, school-based primary prevention programs are effective. Evidence from Internet-based interventions, policy initiatives, and incentives appears to be mixed and needs further research. Future research should focus on evaluating the effectiveness of specific interventions components with standardized intervention and outcome measures. Various delivery platforms, including digital platforms and policy initiative, have the potential to improve substance abuse outcomes among adolescents; however, these require further research.

Goorden, M., Schawo, S., Bouwmans-Frijters, C., van der Schee, E., Hendriks, V., & Hakkaart-van Roijen, L. (2016). The cost-effectiveness of family/family-based therapy for treatment of externalizing disorders, substance use disorders and delinquency: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1), 1-22.

Family therapy and family-based treatment has been commonly applied in children and adolescents in mental health care and has been proven to be effective. There is an increased interest in economic evaluations of these, often expensive, interventions. The aim of this systematic review is to summarize and evaluate the evidence on cost-effectiveness of family/family-based therapy for externalizing disorders, substance use disorders and delinquency. A systematic literature search was performed in PubMed, Education Resource information Centre (ERIC), Psycinfo and Cochrane reviews including studies conducted after 1990 and before the first of August of 2013. Full economic evaluations investigating family/family-based interventions for adolescents between 10 and 20 years treated for substance use disorders, delinquency or externalizing disorders were included. Seven hundred thirty-one articles met the search criteria and 51 studies were initially selected. The final selection resulted in the inclusion of 11 studies. The quality of these studies was assessed. Within the identified studies, there was great variation in the specific type of family/family-based interventions and disorders. According to the outcomes of the checklists, the overall quality of the economic evaluations was low. Results varied by study. Due to the variations in setting, design and outcome it was not feasible to pool results using a meta-analysis. The quality of the identified economic evaluations of family/family-based therapy for treatment of externalizing disorders, adolescent substance use disorders and delinquency was insufficient to determine the cost-effectiveness. Although commonly applied, family/family-based therapy is costly and more research of higher quality is needed.

Liddle, H. A., Dakof, G. A., Rowe, C. L., Henderson, C., Greenbaum, P., Wang, W., & Alberga, L. (2018). Multidimensional Family Therapy as a community-based alternative to residential treatment for adolescents with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 90(1), 47-56.

This randomized clinical trial (RCT) compared Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) with residential treatment (RT) for adolescents with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders on substance use, delinquency, and mental health symptoms. Using an intent-to-treat design, 113 adolescents who had been referred for residential treatment were randomly assigned to either RT or MDFT in the home/community. The sample was primarily male (75%) and Hispanic (68%) with an average age of 15.4 years. Seventy-one percent of youth had at least one previous residential treatment placement. Participants were assessed at baseline and at 2, 4, 12 and 18 months post-baseline. During the early phase of treatment (baseline to 2 months), youth in both treatments showed significant reductions in substance use [substance use problems (d = 1.10), frequency of use (d = 1.36)], delinquent behaviors (d = 0.18) and externalizing symptoms (d = 0.77), and youth receiving MDFT reported significantly greater reductions in internalizing symptoms than youth receiving RT (d = 0.42). In phase 2, from 2 to 18 months after baseline, youth in MDFT maintained their early treatment decreases in substance use problems (d = 0.51), frequency of use (d = 0.24), and delinquent behaviors (d = 0.42) more effectively than youth in RT. During this period, there were no significant treatment differences in maintenance of gains for externalizing and internalizing symptoms. Results suggest that Multidimensional Family Therapy is a promising alternative to residential treatment for youth with substance use and co-occurring disorders. The results, if supported through replication, are important because they challenge the prevailing assumption that adolescents who meet criteria for residential treatment cannot be adequately managed in a non-residential setting.

Stanger, C., Lansing, A. H., & Budney, A. J. (2016). Advances in research on contingency management for adolescent substance use. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics, 25(4), 645-659.

Multiple interventions for treating adolescents with substance use disorders have demonstrated efficacy, but the majority of teens do not show an enduring positive response to these treatments. Contingency-management (CM) based strategies provide a promising alternative, and clinical research focused on the development and testing of innovative CM models continues to grow. This article provides an updated review on the progress made in this area since we last commented on the published literature in 20101. Areas covered include: controlled trials of treatment for adolescents referred to substance use treatment, innovative applications of CM to tobacco cessation among youth, analyses of moderators and mechanisms of CM treatment outcomes, the emerging literature on dissemination and implementation, and other literature suggesting a growing acceptance of CM as viable and effective intervention. The literature in this area continues to progress at a moderate pace, with many indicators of budding interest in the application of CM, and in finding cost effective models to enhance dissemination and implementation. As with other types of substance use disorder treatments, we need to continue to search for more effective models, focus on post-treatment maintenance (reduce relapse), and strive for high levels of integrity and fidelity during dissemination efforts to optimize outcomes.

Stockings, E., Hall, W. D., Lynskey, M., Morley, K. I., Reavley, N., Strang, J., … & Degenhardt, L. (2016). Prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, and treatment of substance use in young people. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(3), 280-296.

We did a systematic review of reviews with evidence on the effectiveness of prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, and treatment of problem use in young people for tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs (eg, cannabis, opioids, amphetamines, or cocaine). Taxation, public consumption bans, advertising restrictions, and minimum legal age are effective measures to reduce alcohol and tobacco use, but are not available to target illicit drugs. Interpretation of the available evidence for school-based prevention is affected by methodological issues; interventions that incorporate skills training are more likely to be effective than information provision—which is ineffective. Social norms and brief interventions to reduce substance use in young people do not have strong evidence of effectiveness. Roadside drug testing and interventions to reduce injection-related harms have a moderate-to-large effect, but additional research with young people is needed. Scarce availability of research on interventions for problematic substance use in young people indicates the need to test interventions that are effective with adults in young people. Existing evidence is from high-income countries, with uncertain applicability in other countries and cultures and in subpopulations differing in sex, age, and risk status. Concerted eff orts are needed to increase the evidence base on interventions that aim to reduce the high burden of substance use in young people.

Tanner-Smith, E. E., Wilson, S. J., & Lipsey, M. W. (2013). The comparative effectiveness of outpatient treatment for adolescent substance abuse: A meta-analysis. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 44(2), 145-158.

Meta-analysis was used to synthesize research on the effects of outpatient treatment on substance use outcomes for adolescents with substance use disorders. An extensive literature search located 45 eligible experimental or quasi-experimental studies reporting 73 treatment–comparison group pairs, with many of the comparison groups also receiving some treatment. The first analysis examined 250 effect sizes for the substance use outcomes of adolescents receiving different types of treatment relative to the respective comparison groups. As a category, family therapy programs were found to be more effective than their comparison conditions, whereas no treatment programs were less effective. However, not all treatment types were compared with each other in the available research, making it difficult to assess the comparative effectiveness of the different treatments. To provide a more differentiated picture of the relative improvement in substance use outcomes for different treatments, a second analysis examined 311 pre–post effect sizes measuring changes in substance use for adolescents in the separate treatment and comparison arms of the studies. The adolescents in almost all types of treatment showed reductions in substance use. The greatest improvements were found for family therapy and mixed and group counseling. Longer treatment duration was associated with smaller improvements, but other treatment characteristics and participant characteristics had little relationship to the pre–post changes in substance use. Based on these findings family therapy is the treatment with the strongest evidence of comparative effectiveness, although most types of treatment appear to be beneficial in helping adolescents reduce their substance use.

Van Ryzin, M. J., Roseth, C. J., Fosco, G. M., Lee, Y. K., & Chen, I. C. (2016). A component-centered meta-analysis of family-based prevention programs for adolescent substance use. Clinical Psychology Review, 45, 72-80.

Although research has documented the positive effects of family-based prevention programs, the field lacks specific information regarding why these programs are effective. The current study summarized the effects of family-based programs on adolescent substance use using a component-based approach to meta-analysis in which we decomposed programs into a set of key topics or components that were specifically addressed by program curricula (e.g., parental monitoring/behavior management, problem solving, positive family relations, etc.). Components were coded according to the amount of time spent on program services that targeted youth, parents, and the whole family; we also coded effect sizes across studies for each substance-related outcome. Given the nested nature of the data, we used hierarchical linear modeling to link program components (Level 2) with effect sizes (Level 1). The overall effect size across programs was .31, which did not differ by type of substance. Youth-focused components designed to encourage more positive family relationships and a positive orientation toward the future emerged as key factors predicting larger than average effect sizes. Our results suggest that, within the universe of family-based prevention, where components such as parental monitoring/behavior management are almost universal, adding or expanding certain youth-focused components may be able to enhance program efficacy.




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