Feasibility of a simple and scalable cognitive-behavioral intervention to treat problem substance use

David M. Barnes, Don Des Jarlais

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our proof-of-concept study tested a simple cognitive-behavioral strategy to help people achieve substance use goals–using non-first person self-talk when facing substance use cues or cravings–based on experimental psychology research that draws on the concept of self-distancing and is consistent with mindfulness principles.  We evaluated participants’ understanding, use, and utility of the intervention at follow-up. Method: We recruited 17 New York City residents who used drugs non-medically. At baseline, we collected demographic and substance use data and conducted the intervention. At one-week follow-up, participants were asked about their understanding, use, and perceived utility of the intervention, and asked to complete an anonymous five-item assessment of the intervention. Results: Sixteen participants completed follow-up. Understanding was judged “acceptable” or better for 15; 11 used their scripts during follow-up; four described their scripts as very useful, one as moderately, five as a little, and one as not useful. Nine returned assessments; ratings were strongly favorable. Conclusions: Results from our pilot are encouraging and point to further research on this intervention. The intervention is suitable for integration into longer-term therapy and we envision non-first person self-talk as one strategy alongside others individuals can employ to moderate their substance use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-695
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Substance Use
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2019


  • Substance use
  • cognitive behavioral treatment
  • mindfulness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)


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