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Meta-analysis was used to synthesize research on the effects of outpatient treatment on substance use outcomes for adolescents with substance use disorders. An extensive literature search located 45 eligible experimental or quasi-experimental studies reporting 73 treatment-comparison group pairs, with many of the comparison groups also receiving some treatment. The first analysis examined 250 effect sizes for the substance use outcomes of adolescents receiving different types of treatment relative to the respective comparison groups. As a category, family therapy programs were found to be more effective than their comparison conditions, whereas no treatment programs were less effective. However, not all treatment types were compared with each other in the available research, making it difficult to assess the comparative effectiveness of the different treatments. To provide a more differentiated picture of the relative improvement in substance use outcomes for different treatments, a second analysis examined 311 pre-post effect sizes measuring changes in substance use for adolescents in the separate treatment and comparison arms of the studies. The adolescents in almost all types of treatment showed reductions in substance use. The greatest improvements were found for family therapy and mixed and group counseling. Longer treatment duration was associated with smaller improvements, but other treatment characteristics and participant characteristics had little relationship to the pre-post changes in substance use. Based on these findings family therapy is the treatment with the strongest evidence of comparative effectiveness, although most types of treatment appear to be beneficial in helping adolescents reduce their substance use.
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