Oppositional defiant and conduct disorders (ODD and CD) start early and persist, incurring high individual and collective costs. To inform policy and practice, we therefore asked: What is the best available research evidence on preventing and treating these disorders?
We sought randomised controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating interventions addressing the prevention or treatment of behaviour problems in individuals aged 18 years or younger. Our criteria were tailored to identify higher-quality RCTs that were also relevant to policy and practice. We searched the CINAHL, ERIC, MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Web of Science databases, updating our initial searches in May 2017. Thirty-seven RCTs met inclusion criteria—evaluating 15 prevention programmes, 8 psychosocial treatments and 5 medications. We then conducted narrative synthesis.
For prevention, 3 notable programmes reduced behavioural diagnoses: Classroom-Centered Intervention; Good Behavior Game; and Fast Track. Five other programmes reduced serious behaviour symptoms such as criminal activity. Prevention benefits were long term, up to 35 years. For psychosocial treatment, Incredible Years reduced behavioural diagnoses. Three other interventions reduced criminal activity. Psychosocial treatment benefits lasted from 1 to 8 years. While 4 medications reduced post-test symptoms, all caused important adverse events.
Considerable RCT evidence favours prevention.
Effective prevention programmes should therefore be made widely available. Effective psychosocial treatments should also be provided for all children with ODD/CD. But medications should be a last resort given associated adverse events and given only short-term evidence of benefits. Policymakers and practitioners can help children and populations by acting on these findings.