Developing adaptive interventions for adolescent substance use treatment settings: Protocol of an observational, mixed-methods project

Sean Grant, Denis Agniel, Daniel Almirall, Q. Burkhart, Sarah B. Hunter, Daniel F. McCaffrey, Eric R. Pedersen, Rajeev Ramchand, Beth Ann Griffin

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Background: Over 1.6 million adolescents in the United States meet criteria for substance use disorders (SUDs). While there are promising treatments for SUDs, adolescents respond to these treatments differentially in part based on the setting in which treatments are delivered. One way to address such individualized response to treatment is through the development of adaptive interventions (AIs): sequences of decision rules for altering treatment based on an individual's needs. This protocol describes a project with the overarching goal of beginning the development of AIs that provide recommendations for altering the setting of an adolescent's substance use treatment. This project has three discrete aims: (1) explore the views of various stakeholders (parents, providers, policymakers, and researchers) on deciding the setting of substance use treatment for an adolescent based on individualized need, (2) generate hypotheses concerning candidate AIs, and (3) compare the relative effectiveness among candidate AIs and non-adaptive interventions commonly used in everyday practice. Methods: This project uses a mixed-methods approach. First, we will conduct an iterative stakeholder engagement process, using RAND's ExpertLens online system, to assess the importance of considering specific individual needs and clinical outcomes when deciding the setting for an adolescent's substance use treatment. Second, we will use results from the stakeholder engagement process to analyze an observational longitudinal data set of 15,656 adolescents in substance use treatment, supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, using the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs questionnaire. We will utilize methods based on Q-learning regression to generate hypotheses about candidate AIs. Third, we will use robust statistical methods that aim to appropriately handle casemix adjustment on a large number of covariates (marginal structural modeling and inverse probability of treatment weights) to compare the relative effectiveness among candidate AIs and non-adaptive decision rules that are commonly used in everyday practice. Discussion: This project begins filling a major gap in clinical and research efforts for adolescents in substance use treatment. Findings could be used to inform the further development and revision of influential multi-dimensional assessment and treatment planning tools, or lay the foundation for subsequent experiments to further develop or test AIs for treatment planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number35
JournalAddiction Science and Clinical Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 19 2017



  • Adaptive interventions
  • Adolescents
  • Alcohol
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Drugs
  • Substance use treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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