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Substance abuse treatment for juvenile offenders: A review of quasi-experimental and experimental research

By Stephen J. Tripodi and Kimberly Bender


Purpose The purpose of this systematic literature review is to assess the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment on alcohol and marijuana use for juvenile offenders based on existing quasi-experimental and experimental research. Additionally, a secondary aim is to compare the effects of individual-based interventions to family-based interventions.Methods A systematic search of literature and electronic databases through 2010 generated five experimental or quasi-experimental studies that assessed alcohol outcomes for juvenile offenders and five experimental or quasi-experimental studies that assessed marijuana outcomes for juvenile offenders.Results Overall, substance abuse treatment appears to have a small to moderate effect on alcohol and marijuana reduction for juvenile offenders. Interventions that showed the most promise were Multisystemic Therapy, Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care, Teaching Family, and Life Skills Training. Individual-based interventions and family-based interventions had similar small to moderate effects on alcohol and marijuana use.Conclusion This review highlights several promising interventions for this high-risk population; however, further rigorous study is desperately needed to provide a better understanding of what works best in reducing substance use among juvenile offenders.

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