Technology-mediated just-in-time adaptive interventions (JITAIs) to reduce harmful substance use: A systematic review

Olga Perski, Emily T. Hébert, Felix Naughton, Eric B. Hekler, Jamie Brown, Michael S. Businelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Background and Aims: Lapse risk when trying to stop or reduce harmful substance use is idiosyncratic, dynamic and multi-factorial. Just-in-time adaptive interventions (JITAIs) aim to deliver tailored support at moments of need or opportunity. We aimed to synthesize evidence on decision points, tailoring variables, intervention options, decision rules, study designs, user engagement and effectiveness of technology-mediated JITAIs for reducing harmful substance use. 

Methods: Systematic review of empirical studies of any design with a narrative synthesis. We searched Ovid MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, Web of Science, the ACM Digital Library, the IEEE Digital Library,, the ISRCTN register and dblp using terms related to substance use/mHealth/JITAIs. Outcomes were user engagement and intervention effectiveness. Study quality was assessed with the mHealth Evidence Reporting and Assessment checklist. 

Findings: We included 17 reports of 14 unique studies, including two randomized controlled trials. JITAIs targeted alcohol (S = 7, n = 120 520), tobacco (S = 4, n = 187), cannabis (S = 2, n = 97) and a combination of alcohol and illicit substance use (S = 1, n = 63), and primarily relied on active measurement and static (i.e. time-invariant) decision rules to deliver support tailored to micro-scale changes in mood or urges. Two studies used data from prior participants and four drew upon theory to devise decision rules. Engagement with available JITAIs was moderate-to-high and evidence of effectiveness was mixed. Due to substantial heterogeneity in study designs and outcome variables assessed, no meta-analysis was performed. Many studies reported insufficient detail on JITAI infrastructure, content, development costs and data security. 

Conclusions: Current implementations of just-in-time adaptive interventions (JITAIs) for reducing harmful substance use rely on active measurement and static decision rules to deliver support tailored to micro-scale changes in mood or urges. Studies on JITAI effectiveness are lacking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1220-1241
Number of pages22
Issue number5
Early online date13 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • alcohol
  • just-in-time adaptive intervention
  • mHealth
  • substance use
  • systematic review
  • tailoring

Cite this