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Adolescent Substance Use Treatment Effectiveness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2016
76 pages

The findings and methodology are reported for a meta-analysis that quantitatively synthesized findings from the most current research on the effectiveness of adolescent substance-use treatment.


Specifically, the meta-analysis examined the effects of substance-use treatment programs on adolescents' subsequent substance use and the variability in these effects across key features of the adolescent populations and the treatment methods. An extensive literature search identified 61 eligible experimental or quasi-experimental studies that reported 95 treatment-comparison group pairs. Overall, assertive continuing care, behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and family therapy had the strongest evidence of effectiveness in stopping substance abuse among treatment participants. Generic practice that typically involved referral to standard community services was consistently the least effective treatment condition. In a second analysis that examined 380 pretest-posttest effect sizes showed changes in substance use for each of the treatment types; however, the target reductions were found for MET/CBT, family therapy, and CBT programs. There was no evidence that other treatment characteristics or participant characteristics were linked to pretest-posttest changes in substance use. The overall conclusion of the meta-analysis is that most substance-use treatment programs were beneficial in helping adolescents reduce their substance use when those treatment programs provided tailored treatment services beyond standard community services. No program types showed evidence of harmful effects. The preferred referral, however, is to treatment programs that use family therapy, MET, or CBT treatment modalities. Search methods and data collection and analysis are described in detail. 5 exhibits and 21 references

Date Published: April 1, 2016