Moderators of Substance Use Disorder Treatment for Adolescents

Rachel L. Bachrach, Tammy Chung

Publication Date: 07/27/2020

Objective: This brief review covers the current state of the literature on moderators of adolescent substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. These moderators provide information on “for whom” a specific treatment may work best. Method: We used Google Scholar, PubMed, PsycInfo, and manual search of relevant reference lists to identify eligible peer-reviewed publications from January 2005 to December 2019. Results: We summarize 21 published studies (including meta-analyses, randomized clinical trials, and correlational work) testing moderators and/or predictors of adolescent SUD treatment outcomes. Conclusions are, thus, limited by the relatively small number of studies. Results suggest that, for adolescents with co-occurring externalizing pathology or those higher in SUD severity, more intensive treatment appears to be more effective. Other findings were often inconsistent (e.g., examining sex or race/ethnicity as a moderator) between studies, making it challenging to provide clear recommendations for personalizing SUD treatment choice. Conclusions: Future research may need to shift focus from exploring often unchangeable moderators (e.g., race/ethnicity) to factors that are potentially modifiable with treatment. Additionally, testing models that include mediators of treatment effects—that is, factors that help to explain “how” treatment works—along with moderators (moderated-mediation) may provide the most benefit in understanding both “for whom” and “how” to tailor SUD treatment to optimally meet an adolescent’s personal needs…