Clinical practice guidelines recommend comprehensive treatment for tobacco dependence including pharmacotherapies and behavioral interventions. Group counseling may deliver unique treatment aspects not available with other modalities. This manuscript provides a narrative review of group treatment outcomes from real world practice settings and complements recent meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Our primary goals were to determine whether group treatments delivered in these settings have yielded similar quit rates compared to individual treatment and to provide recommendations for best practices and policy.
Group treatment was defined as occurring in a clinical or workplace setting (i.e., not provided as part of a research study), led by a professionally trained clinician, and offered weekly over several weeks. English language PubMed articles from January 2000-July 2017 were searched to identify studies that included outcomes from both group and individual treatment offered in real world settings. Additional data sources meeting our criteria were also included. Reports not using pharmacotherapy and research studies (e.g., RCTs) were excluded. The primary outcome was short-term, CO-validated point prevalence abstinence (4-weeks post-quit date).
The review included data from 11 observational studies. In all cases, group treatment(s) had higher 4-week CO-validated quit rates (range 35.5–67.3%) than individual treatment(s) (range 18.6%-53.3%).
Best practice group treatments for tobacco dependence are generalizable from research to clinical settings and likely to be at least as effective as intensive individual treatment. The added advantages of efficiency and cost-effectiveness can be significant. Group treatment is feasible in various settings with good results.
A major barrier to achieving high rates of tobacco abstinence is under-utilization of evidence-based treatment interventions. This review demonstrates the effectiveness and utility of group treatment for tobacco dependence. Based on the available data described in this narrative review in conjunction with existing RCT data, group treatment for tobacco dependence should be established and available in all behavioral health and medical settings. Group tobacco treatment is now one of the mandated reimbursable tobacco treatment formats within the US healthcare system, creating enormous opportunities for widespread clinical reach. Finally, comprehensive worksite group programs can further extend impact.