Employment-based abstinence reinforcement as a maintenance intervention for the treatment of cocaine dependence: A randomized controlled trial

Anthony Defulio, Wendy D. Donlin, Conrad J. Wong, Kenneth Silverman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Context Due to the chronic nature of cocaine dependence, long-term maintenance treatments may be required to sustain abstinence. Abstinence reinforcement is among the most effective means of initiating cocaine abstinence. Practical and effective means of maintaining abstinence reinforcement programs over time are needed. Objective To determine whether employment-based abstinence reinforcement can be an effective long-term maintenance intervention for cocaine dependence. Design Participants (n = 128) were enrolled in a 6-month job skills training and abstinence initiation program. Participants who initiated abstinence, attended regularly and developed needed job skills during the first 6 months were hired as operators in a data entry business and assigned randomly to an employment-only (control, n = 24) or abstinence-contingent employment (n = 27) group. Setting A non-profit data entry business. Participants Unemployed welfare recipients who used cocaine persistently while enrolled in methadone treatment in Baltimore. Intervention Abstinence-contingent employment participants received 1 year of employment-based contingency management, in which access to employment was contingent upon provision of drug-free urine samples under routine and then random drug testing. If a participant provided drug-positive urine or failed to provide a mandatory sample, then that participant received a temporary reduction in pay and could not work until urinalysis confirmed recent abstinence. Main outcome measure Cocaine-negative urine samples at monthly assessments across 1 year of employment. Results During the 1 year of employment, abstinence-contingent employment participants provided significantly more cocaine-negative urine samples than employment-only participants [79.3% and 50.7%, respectively; P = 0.004, odds ratio (OR) = 3.73, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.60-8.69]. Conclusions Employment-based abstinence reinforcement that includes random drug testing is effective as a long-term maintenance intervention, and is among the most promising treatments for drug dependence. Work-places could serve as therapeutic agents in the treatment of drug dependence by arranging long-term employment-based contingency management programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1530-1538
Number of pages9
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Abstinence reinforcement
  • Cocaine
  • Contingency management
  • Employment
  • Methadone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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