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A Meta-Analytic Review of Psychosocial Interventions for Substance Use Disorders

NCJ Number
American Journal of Psychiatry Volume: 165 Issue: 2 Dated: 2008 Pages: 179-187
Lisa Dutra; Georgia Stathopoulou; Shawnee L. Basden; Teresa M. Leyro; Mark B. Powers; Michael W. Otto
Date Published
9 pages

The authors use a meta-analysis to systematically investigate the efficacy of psychosocial treatments for substance use disorders; they also provide indices of the strength of findings for specific interventions and specific drug use disorders, a comprehensive account of the strength of cognitive behavioral treatments for substance abuse and dependence, and an analysis of various outcome variables, along with evidence for potential moderating factors in treatment outcome across studies.


Despite significant advances in psychosocial treatments for substance use disorders, the relative success of these approaches has not been well documented. In this meta-analysis, the authors provide effect sizes for various types of psychosocial treatments, as well as abstinence and treatment-retention rates for cannabis, cocaine, opiate, and polysubstance abuse and dependence treatment trials. With a comprehensive series of literature searches, the authors identified a total of 34 well-controlled treatment conditions—five for cannabis, nine for cocaine, seven for opiate, and 13 for polysubstance users—representing the treatment of 2,340 patients. Psychosocial treatments evaluated included contingency management, relapse prevention, general cognitive behavior therapy, and treatments combining cognitive behavior therapy and contingency management. Overall, controlled trial data suggest that psychosocial treatments provide benefits reflecting a moderate effect size according to Cohen’s standards. These interventions were most efficacious for cannabis use and least efficacious for polysubstance use. The strongest effect was found for contingency management interventions. Approximately one-third of participants across all psychosocial treatments dropped out before treatment completion compared to 44.6 percent for the control conditions. Effect sizes for psychosocial treatments for illicit drugs ranged from the low-moderate to high-moderate range, depending on the substance disorder and treatment under study. Given the long-term social, emotional, and cognitive impairments associated with substance use disorders, these effect sizes are noteworthy and comparable to those for other efficacious treatments in psychiatry.