U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Multidimensional Family Therapy as a Community-Based Alternative to Residential Treatment for Adolescents With Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

NCJ Number
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment Volume: 90 Dated: 2018 Pages: 47-56
Howard A. Liddle; Gayle A. Dakof; Cynthia L. Rowe; Craig Henderson; Paul Greenbaum ; Wei Wang; Linda Alberga
Date Published
10 pages

The authors lay out their research methodology and results in their discussion of a randomized clinical trial aimed at comparing Multidimensional Family Therapy with residential treatment, to determine impacts on adolescents with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.


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 percent) and Hispanic (68 percent) 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 two, four, 12, and 18 months post-baseline. During the early phase of treatment (baseline to two months), youth in both treatments showed significant reductions in substance use, delinquent behaviors, and externalizing symptoms, and youth receiving MDFT reported significantly greater reductions in internalizing symptoms than youth receiving RT. In the second phase, from two to 18 months after baseline, youth in MDFT maintained their early treatment decreases in substance use problems, frequency of use, and delinquent behaviors 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. Publisher Abstract Provided