9 Meta-Studies show Contingency Management is one of the most effective treatments for substance use disorder

Contingency Management (CM) stands out as one of the most effective, research-backed methods for battling substance use disorders. The evidence is clear: CM significantly improves recovery outcomes, offering a beacon of hope to those navigating the challenges of addiction.

Despite its proven success, CM is still underutilized, with less than 10% of U.S. treatment programs incorporating it. Why? The logistical hurdles are many – from funding constraints to staff training requirements and the complexities of reward management. These practical barriers have kept CM from reaching its full potential in aiding recovery. 

Join us as we dive into the world of Contingency Management – exploring groundbreaking studies on how contingency management can turn the tide in addiction treatment.

Our non-exhaustive list of studies on Contingency Management Meta-Studies

“Contingency Management in Outpatient Methadone Treatment: A Meta-Analysis”

Study Summary:

  • Focus: This meta-analysis concentrated on the effectiveness of contingency management (CM) interventions in outpatient methadone treatment settings, specifically analyzing drug use during treatment as detected through urinalysis.
  • Key Findings: The study affirmed that CM is an effective strategy in reducing supplemental drug use among patients. The overall effect size, which measures the strength of these interventions, was calculated at 0.25 across 30 studies. This effect size is considered small to medium but holds substantial clinical and practical significance. This study provides compelling evidence for the efficacy of contingency management in treating substance use disorder, highlighting the importance of specific approaches within CM to maximize its impact​​​​.

“A meta-analysis of voucher-based reinforcement therapy for substance use disorders.”

Study Summary:

  • Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of voucher-based reinforcement therapy (VBRT) in treating substance use disorders (SUDs).
  • Methodology: A meta-analysis was conducted on studies published from January 1991 to March 2004. These studies utilized VBRT or related monetary incentives to target substance abstinence, clinic attendance, or medication compliance in SUD treatment.
  • Key Findings:
    1. Effectiveness in Promoting Abstinence: For interventions targeting drug abstinence, the average effect size was 0.32 (95% CI 0.26–0.38), indicating a moderate, positive impact of VBRT on treatment outcomes.
    2. Factors Influencing Effectiveness: The effectiveness of VBRT was influenced by the immediacy of voucher delivery and the monetary value of the vouchers. More immediate delivery and higher monetary values were associated with larger effect sizes.

This study provides robust support for the use of voucher-based reinforcement as an effective treatment strategy for substance use disorders, especially when considering the impact of voucher immediacy and value​​.

“A Meta-Analytic Review of Psychosocial Interventions for Substance Use Disorders.”

Study Summary:

  • Objective: The study aimed to document the success of various psychosocial treatments for substance use disorders (SUDs), focusing on cannabis, cocaine, opiate, and polysubstance abuse and dependence.
  • Key Findings:
    • Overall Effectiveness: Psychosocial treatments showed moderate effectiveness in treating SUDs, with varying success based on the type of substance used.
    • Most Effective for Cannabis Use: The treatments were most effective for cannabis use (effect size d=0.81) and least effective for polysubstance use (effect size d=0.24).
    • Effectiveness for Cocaine and Opiates: Moderate to large effect sizes were observed for cocaine use (d=0.62), and small to medium effect sizes for opiate use (d=0.39).
    • Contingency Management Efficacy: Contingency management interventions demonstrated particularly strong effects (d=0.58), indicating significant efficacy in treating SUDs.
    • Abstinence Rates: About one-third (31%) of participants in active treatment conditions achieved posttreatment and/or clinically significant abstinence, compared to only 13% in control conditions. Specifically, 36.2% of opiate users, 31.7% of cocaine users, and 26.0% of cannabis users achieved abstinence.
  • Conclusions: The study concluded that psychosocial treatments for illicit drugs are moderately effective, with effect sizes ranging from low-moderate to high-moderate, depending on the specific substance disorder and treatment type. These findings are notable given the complex social, emotional, and cognitive impairments associated with substance use disorders and are comparable to efficacious treatments in other areas of psychiatry.
  • Moderating Factors: Younger participants and those with shorter histories of substance use tended to have larger effect sizes and lower dropout rates. Additionally, a longer duration of treatment was negatively correlated with effect size, suggesting more concise treatment programs might be more effective.

This study reinforces the value of psychosocial interventions, particularly contingency management, in treating various substance use disorders, with a notable impact on achieving abstinence and improving treatment outcomes​​​​.

“Financial reinforcers for improving medication adherence: findings from a meta-analysis.”

Study Summary:

  • Methodology: A meta-analysis was conducted on 21 studies (15 randomized and six nonrandomized) that examined the efficacy of financial reinforcement interventions for medication adherence in various conditions, including tuberculosis, substance abuse, HIV, hepatitis, schizophrenia, and stroke prevention.
  • Conclusion: The findings underscore the efficacy of financial reinforcement interventions in improving medication adherence across various health conditions. Such interventions not only benefit patients but may also have broader societal benefits. The study highlights key factors to consider when designing future adherence interventions, emphasizing the potential of financial reinforcement to enhance medication adherence.

This study reinforces the effectiveness of financial incentives in promoting adherence to medication in substance abuse treatment, among other health issues, and provides insights into optimizing such interventions​​.

“Prize-based Contingency Management for the treatment of substance abusers: a meta-analysis.”

Study Summary:

  • Methodology: The study analyzed randomized controlled trials published from January 2000 to February 2013. A total of 19 studies were compared to a treatment-as-usual control condition. The analysis also included both short-term (9 studies) and long-term (6 studies) outcomes of prize-based CM.
  • Conclusion: Prize-based contingency management can increase short-term abstinence when added to behavioral support for substance use disorders. However, this effect does not appear to persist over a longer period (6 months).

This study highlights the potential of prize-based CM in enhancing short-term treatment outcomes for substance use disorders while also noting the challenges in maintaining these benefits over the longer term​​.

“Contingency Management interventions for non-prescribed drug use during treatment for opiate addiction: A systematic review and Meta-analysis.”

Study Summary:

  • Background and Objectives: The study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of contingency management (CM) as a behavioral treatment using rewards to encourage desired behaviors, particularly for treating non-prescribed drug use during opiate addiction treatment.
  • Methodology: The study systematically searched multiple databases, leading to a meta-analysis of 22 studies. The effectiveness of CM was evaluated using two primary measures: the longest duration of abstinence (LDA) and the percentage of negative samples (PNS). The analysis also considered six potential moderators, including the drug targeted for intervention, the decade of study, study quality, intervention duration, type of reinforcer, and form of opiate treatment.
  • Conclusion: CM is efficacious in treating most forms of drug use during treatment for opiate addiction. However, further research is needed to fully understand the impact of different moderating factors and the long-term effects of CM interventions.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of contingency management in treating substance use disorders, particularly during treatment for opiate addiction​​​​.

Comparative efficacy and acceptability of psychosocial interventions for individuals with cocaine and amphetamine addiction: A systematic review and network meta-analysis.”

Study Summary:

  • Background and Objective: The study aimed to estimate the comparative effectiveness of various psychosocial interventions (alone or in combination) for the treatment of cocaine and/or amphetamine addiction, both in the short and long term.
  • Methodology: This comprehensive network meta-analysis included 50 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving 6942 participants. The primary outcome measures were efficacy (proportion of patients in abstinence assessed by urinalysis) and acceptability (proportion of patients who dropped out due to any cause).
  • Key Findings:
    • Efficacy and Acceptability: The combination of contingency management (CM) and community reinforcement approach (CRA) was the only intervention that significantly increased the number of abstinent patients at the end of treatment, at 12 weeks, and at the longest follow-up. This combination was also associated with fewer dropouts than treatment as usual (TAU) both at 12 weeks and the end of treatment.
    • Head-to-Head Comparisons: The CM plus CRA combination had the highest number of statistically significant results in head-to-head comparisons, being more efficacious than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), non-contingent rewards, and the 12-step program plus non-contingent rewards.
    • Superiority at Longest Follow-up: At the longest follow-up, the CRA was more effective than several other interventions, but the combination of CRA with CM was superior also to CBT alone, CM alone, CM plus CBT, and the 12-step program plus non-contingent rewards.
  • Conclusion: This network meta-analysis is a comprehensive synthesis of data for psychosocial interventions for individuals with cocaine and/or amphetamine addiction. It provides a strong evidence base to guide decision-making about these interventions, underscoring the effectiveness of combining CM and CRA.

This study emphasizes the superiority of combining contingency management with a community reinforcement approach over other psychosocial interventions in treating cocaine and amphetamine addiction, both in terms of efficacy and acceptability​​​​.

“Mobile telephone‐delivered Contingency Management interventions promoting behaviour change in individuals with substance use disorders: a meta‐analysis.”

Study Summary:

  • Background/Aims: This systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the effectiveness of mobile telephone-delivered contingency management (CM) interventions in promoting abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, medication adherence, and treatment engagement among individuals with substance use disorders.
  • Methodology: The study included seven studies involving 222 participants. The interventions targeted alcohol abstinence among frequent drinkers, smoking cessation (including homeless veterans and those with post-traumatic stress disorder), and medication adherence among individuals with HIV and substance misuse.
  • Key Findings:
    • Effectiveness of CM: The meta-analysis showed that mobile telephone-delivered CM interventions significantly outperformed control conditions in reducing tobacco and alcohol use among adults, not in treatment for substance use disorders.
  • Conclusion: The results underscore the efficacy of mobile telephone-delivered CM for enhancing treatment of substance use disorders, demonstrating significant improvements in abstinence rates for alcohol and tobacco use. The study highlights the potential of mobile technology in delivering effective contingency management interventions.

This study provides evidence of the effectiveness of technology-assisted interventions, specifically using mobile telephones, to implement CM strategies successfully in substance use disorder treatment, particularly for alcohol and tobacco use​​​​.

“Long-term efficacy of Contingency Management treatment based on objective indicators of abstinence from illicit substance use up to 1 year following treatment: A meta-analysis.”

Study Summary:

  • Objective: This meta-analysis investigated the long-term impact of contingency management (CM) on illicit substance use, focusing on outcomes up to one year following treatment. It specifically addressed the criticism regarding CM’s limited long-term impact.
  • Methodology: The analysis included 23 randomized trials involving treatments for stimulant, opioid, or polysubstance use disorders, encompassing 3320 participants. The study focused on objective measures of drug use (urine toxicology) and assessed the likelihood of abstinence post-treatment.
  • Conclusion: Contrary to common criticisms, CM demonstrated significant long-term benefits in reducing drug use, showing efficacy above and beyond other active evidence-based treatments and community-based intensive outpatient treatment. These findings suggest that CM should be supported by policymakers and insurers, given its proven short- and now long-term efficacy.

This study provides important insights into the lasting impacts of CM, highlighting its effectiveness up to one-year post-treatment in reducing illicit substance use​​​​.


Having examined just a few of the studies on Contingency Management (CM) and its impact on substance use disorder treatment, a few key themes stand out.

Firstly, the power of CM is undeniable. The studies we’ve explored paint a vivid picture of CM’s effectiveness in fostering positive behavioral changes. From enhancing abstinence rates to improving medication adherence and treatment engagement, CM’s role in addiction recovery is both transformative and multifaceted. However, underutilization of this evidence-based approach in treatment programs highlights a gap between research and practice. By addressing the practical challenges traditionally associated with CM, we’re not just advocating for a theory but bringing a proven solution to life.

In closing, let’s remember that every piece of research, every study, and every statistic represents real people – individuals who are fighting their own battles against addiction. It’s for them that we continue to push to implement measurement-based interventions and strive toward a world where recovery is within everyone’s reach. Each individual’s journey towards recovery is unique, but it doesn’t have to be navigated alone. If you or someone you know is grappling with addiction, Antelope Recovery is here to offer a helping hand.