A tutorial on individual participant data meta-analysis using Bayesian multilevel modeling to estimate alcohol intervention effects across heterogeneous studies

David Huh, Eun Young Mun, Scott T. Walters, Zhengyang Zhou, David C. Atkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


This paper provides a tutorial companion for the methodological approach implemented in Huh et al. (2015)that overcame two major challenges for individual participant data (IPD)meta-analysis. Specifically, we show how to validly combine data from heterogeneous studies with varying numbers of treatment arms, and how to analyze highly-skewed count outcomes with many zeroes (e.g., alcohol and substance use outcomes)to estimate overall effect sizes. These issues have important implications for the feasibility, applicability, and interpretation of IPD meta-analysis but have received little attention thus far in the applied research literature. We present a Bayesian multilevel modeling approach for combining multi-arm trials (i.e., those with two or more treatment groups)in a distribution-appropriate IPD analysis. Illustrative data come from Project INTEGRATE, an IPD meta-analysis study of brief motivational interventions to reduce excessive alcohol use and related harm among college students. Our approach preserves the original random allocation within studies, combines within-study estimates across all studies, overcomes between-study heterogeneity in trial design (i.e., number of treatment arms)and/or study-level missing data, and derives two related treatment outcomes in a multivariate IPD meta-analysis. This methodological approach is a favorable alternative to collapsing or excluding intervention groups within multi-arm trials, making it possible to directly compare multiple treatment arms in a one-step IPD meta-analysis. To facilitate application of the method, we provide annotated computer code in R along with the example data used in this tutorial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-170
Number of pages9
JournalAddictive Behaviors
StatePublished - Jul 2019



  • Bayesian multilevel modeling
  • Brief motivational intervention
  • College drinking
  • Individual participant data
  • Meta-analysis
  • Multivariate meta-analysis

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