Brief behavioral interventions for substance use in adolescents: A meta-analysis

Dale W. Steele*, Sara J. Becker, Kristin J. Danko, Ethan M. Balk, Gaelen P. Adam, Ian J. Saldanha, Thomas A. Trikalinos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


CONTEXT: Adolescents with problematic substance use (SU) are at risk for far-reaching adverse outcomes. OBJECTIVE: Synthesize the evidence regarding the effects of brief behavioral interventions for adolescents (12–20 years) with problematic SU. DATA SOURCES: We conducted literature searches in Medline, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and PsycInfo through October 31, 2019. STUDY SELECTION: We screened 33 272 records and citations for interventions in adolescents with at least problematic SU, retrieved 1831 articles, and selected 22 randomized controlled trials of brief interventions meeting eligibility criteria for meta-analysis. DATA EXTRACTION: We followed Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality guidelines. We categorized brief interventions into components, including motivational interviewing (MI), psychoeducation, and treatment as usual. Outcomes included SU (abstinence, days used per month) for alcohol and cannabis, and substance-related problem scales. Strength of evidence (SoE) was assessed. RESULTS: Both pairwise and network meta-analyses were conducted by using random effects models. Compared to treatment as usual, the use of MI reduces heavy alcohol use days by 0.7 days per month (95% credible interval [CrI]: 21.6 to 0.02; low SoE), alcohol use days by 1.1 days per month (95% CrI 22.2 to 20.3; moderate SoE), and overall substance-related problems by a standardized net mean difference of 0.5 (95% CrI –1.0 to 0; low SoE). The use of MI did not reduce cannabis use days, with a net mean difference of 20.05 days per month (95% CrI: 20.26 to 0.14; moderate SoE). LIMITATIONS: There was lack of consistently reported outcomes and limited available comparisons. CONCLUSIONS: The use of MI reduces heavy alcohol use, alcohol use days, and SU-related problems in adolescents but does not reduce cannabis use days.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20200351
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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