• During the first 2 months of treatment, youth in both treatments showed significant reductions on all outcomes.

• During the first 2 months of treatment, MDFT had greater reductions in internalizing symptoms.

• At 18 months after baseline, MDFT maintained improvement in substance use and delinquency significantly better than RT.

• Residential treatment did not demonstrate greater effects than MDFT for any outcome measured.

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%) and Hispanic (68%) 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 2, 4, 12 and 18 months post-baseline. During the early phase of treatment (baseline to 2 months), youth in both treatments showed significant reductions in substance use [substance use problems (d = 1.10), frequency of use (d = 1.36)], delinquent behaviors (d = 0.18) and externalizing symptoms (d = 0.77), and youth receiving MDFT reported significantly greater reductions in internalizing symptoms than youth receiving RT (d = 0.42). In phase 2, from 2 to 18 months after baseline, youth in MDFT maintained their early treatment decreases in substance use problems (d = 0.51), frequency of use (d = 0.24), and delinquent behaviors (d = 0.42) 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.

Howard A. Liddle, Gayle A. Dakof, Cynthia L. Rowe, Craig Henderson, Paul Greenbaum, Wei Wang, Linda Alberga
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Volume 90, July 2018