Randomized Clinical Trial of Computerized and Clinician-Delivered CBT in Comparison With Standard Outpatient Treatment for Substance Use Disorders: Primary Within-Treatment and Follow-Up Outcomes

Am J Psychiatry. 2018 Sep 1;175(9):853-863. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17090978. Epub 2018 May 24.


Objective: Previous trials have demonstrated the efficacy and durability of computer-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT4CBT) as an add-on to standard outpatient care in a range of treatment-seeking populations. In this study, the authors evaluated the efficacy and safety of CBT4CBT as a virtual stand-alone treatment, delivered with minimal clinical monitoring, and clinician-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) compared with treatment as usual in a heterogeneous sample of treatment-seeking outpatients with substance use disorders.

Method: This was a randomized clinical trial in which 137 individuals who met DSM-IV-TR criteria for current substance abuse or dependence were randomly assigned to receive treatment as usual, weekly individual CBT, or CBT4CBT with brief weekly monitoring.

Results: Rates of treatment exposure differed by group, with the best retention in the CBT4CBT group and the poorest in the individual CBT group. Participants who received CBT or CBT4CBT reduced their frequency of substance use significantly more than those who received treatment as usual. Six-month follow-up outcomes indicated continuing benefit of CBT4CBT (plus monitoring) over treatment as usual, but not for clinician-delivered CBT over treatment as usual. Analysis of secondary outcomes indicated that participants in the CBT4CBT group demonstrated the best learning of cognitive and behavioral concepts, as well as the highest satisfaction with treatment.

Conclusions: This first trial of computerized CBT as a virtual stand-alone intervention delivered in a clinical setting to a diverse sample of patients with current substance use disorders indicated that it was safe, effective, and durable relative to standard treatment approaches and was well-liked by participants. Clinician-delivered individual CBT, while efficacious within the treatment period, was unexpectedly associated with a higher dropout rate and lower effects at follow-up.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01442597.

Keywords: Alcohol Abuse; Behavior Therapy; Cognitive Therapy; Psychoactive Substance Use Disorder.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care / methods
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy* / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01442597