One-year follow-up of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for cocaine dependence. Delayed emergence of psychotherapy effects

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1994 Dec;51(12):989-97. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.1994.03950120061010.


Background: Neither the durability of brief ambulatory treatments for cocaine dependence nor the relative ability of psychotherapy vs pharmacotherapy to effect lasting change has been evaluated in well-controlled randomized trials.

Methods: We conducted a 1-year naturalistic follow-up of 121 ambulatory cocaine abusers who underwent psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention or clinical management) and pharmacotherapy (desipramine hydrochloride or placebo) in a 2 x 2 design. Subjects were interviewed 1, 3, 6, or 12 months after the termination of a 12-week course of outpatient treatment. Eighty percent (n = 97) of the subjects who were randomized to treatment were followed up at least once.

Results: First, the effects of study treatments appeared durable over the follow-up; as for the full sample, measures of cocaine use indicated either improvement or no change over posttreatment levels. Second, abstinence during treatment was strongly associated with less cocaine use during follow-up. Third, random effects regression models indicated significant psychotherapy-by-time effects, suggesting a delayed improved response during follow-up for patients who received cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention compared with supportive clinical management.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest a delayed emergence of the effects of cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention, which may reflect the subjects' implementation of the generalizable coping skills conveyed through that treatment. Moreover, these data underline the importance of conducting follow-up studies of substance abusers and other groups because delayed effects may occur after the cessation of short-term treatments.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Cocaine*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Desipramine / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Placebos
  • Psychotherapy, Brief
  • Recurrence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Placebos
  • Cocaine
  • Desipramine