Cover: The Role of Pre-Treatment Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Adolescent Substance Use Treatment Outcomes

The Role of Pre-Treatment Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Adolescent Substance Use Treatment Outcomes

Published in: Substance Use & Misuse, Volume 58, No. 4, pages 551–559 (2023). doi: 10.1080/10826084.2023.2177960

Posted on Feb 21, 2023

by Donna L. Coffman, Lynsay Ayer, Megan S. Schuler, Mark D. Godley, Beth Ann Griffin


Prominent theories suggest that individuals with co-occurring traumatic stress symptoms (TSS) and substance use (SU) may be less responsive to SU treatment compared to those with SU only. However, empirical findings in adult samples are mixed, and there has been limited work among adolescents. This study assesses the association between TSS and SU treatment outcomes among trauma-exposed adolescents, using statistical methods to reduce potential confounding from important factors such as baseline SU severity.


2,963 adolescents with lifetime history of victimization received evidence-based SU treatment in outpatient community settings. At baseline, 3- and 6-months, youth were assessed using the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs Traumatic Stress Scale and the Substance Frequency Scale. Propensity score weighting was used to mitigate potential confounding due to baseline differences in sociodemographic characteristics and SU across youth with varying levels of TSS.


Propensity score weighting successfully balanced baseline differences in sociodemographic factors and baseline SU across youth. Among all youth, mean SU was lower at both 3- and 6- month follow-up relative to baseline, indicating declining use. After adjusting for potential confounders, we observed no statistically significant relationship between TSS and SU at either 3- or 6-month follow-up.


Based on this investigation, conducted among a large sample of trauma-exposed youth receiving evidence-based outpatient SU treatment, baseline TSS do not appear to be negatively associated with SU treatment outcomes. However, future research should examine whether youth with TSS achieve better outcomes through integrative treatment for both SU and TSS.

This report is part of the RAND external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.