The Role of Behavioral Interventions in Buprenorphine Maintenance Treatment: A Review

Am J Psychiatry. 2017 Aug 1;174(8):738-747. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16070792. Epub 2016 Dec 16.


Objective: Although counseling is a required part of office-based buprenorphine treatment of opioid use disorders, the nature of what constitutes appropriate counseling is unclear and controversial. The authors review the literature on the role, nature, and intensity of behavioral interventions in office-based buprenorphine treatment.

Method: The authors conducted a review of randomized controlled studies testing the efficacy of adding a behavioral intervention to buprenorphine maintenance treatment.

Results: Four key studies showed no benefit from adding a behavioral intervention to buprenorphine plus medical management, and four studies indicated some benefit for specific behavioral interventions, primarily contingency management. The authors examined the findings from the negative trials in the context of six questions: 1) Is buprenorphine that effective? 2) Is medical management that effective? 3) Are behavioral interventions that ineffective in this population? 4) How has research design affected the results of studies of buprenorphine plus behavioral treatment? 5) What do we know about subgroups of patients who do and those who do not seem to benefit from behavioral interventions? 6) What should clinicians aim for in terms of treatment outcome in buprenorphine maintenance?

Conclusions: High-quality medical management may suffice for some patients, but there are few data regarding the types of individuals for whom medical management is sufficient. Physicians should consider a stepped-care model in which patients may begin with relatively nonintensive treatment, with increased intensity for patients who struggle early in treatment. Finally, with 6-month retention rates seldom exceeding 50% and poor outcomes following dropout, we must explore innovative strategies for enhancing retention in buprenorphine treatment.

Keywords: Addiction; Behavioral Treatment; Buprenorphine; Opioid Use Disorder; Psychotherapy; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Heroin Dependence / psychology
  • Heroin Dependence / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care / psychology
  • Methadone / therapeutic use
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Compliance / psychology
  • Patient Preference / psychology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone