Contact us now to get immediate help: 1-855-350-3330
More than 700,000 Americans receive alcoholism treatment on any given day (1). However, the techniques of alcoholism therapy have traditionally been based on clinical experience and intuition, with little rigorous validation of their effectiveness (2). Over the past 20 years, modern methods of evaluating medical therapies have been increasingly applied to alcoholism treatment. These methods include the use of control groups for comparison purposes, random assignment of study participants to different treatment groups and, to the greatest extent possible, followup of all patients who entered the study (3). This issue focuses on the results of recent controlled clinical studies on the effectiveness of self-help groups, psychosocial approaches, and medications in achieving and maintaining abstinence.
Twelve-Step Self-Help Programs
Self-help groups are the most commonly sought source of help for alcohol-related problems (4). Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), one of the most commonly known self-help groups, outlines 12 consecutive activities, or steps, that alcoholics should achieve during the recovery process. Alcoholics can become involved with AA before entering professional treatment, as a part of it, or as aftercare following professional treatment. Although AA appears to produce positive outcomes in many of its members (5,6), its efficacy has rarely been assessed in randomized clinical trials (7).
One randomized study of patients entering employee assistance programs compared inpatient treatment combined with AA with referral to AA alone (8). This study found that inpatient treatment, a combination of professional treatment and AA, will achieve better results for more people than AA alone (8). Ouimette and colleagues (9), as part of a nonrandomized observational study involving 3,000 patients in Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, compared predominantly 12-step programs with predominantly cognitive-behavioral programs as well as with courses of therapy that combined both approaches. In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the therapist helps the client learn new skills to cope with problems and to change harmful behavior patterns, such as alcohol abuse. One year after completion of treatment, the three types of programs had produced comparable improvements on measures of alcohol consumption and related problems. However, participants in the 12-step programs achieved more sustained abstinence and higher rates of employment compared with participants in the other two programs (9). Interpretation of these results is complicated by the nonrandom assignment of patients to the different treatment types (9).
The beneficial effects of AA may be attributable in part to the replacement of the participant's social network of drinking friends with a fellowship of AA members who can provide motivation and support for maintaining abstinence (4,10). In addition, AA's approach often results in the development of coping skills, many of which are similar to those taught in more structured psychosocial treatment settings, thereby leading to reductions in alcohol consumption (4,11).
Motivational Enhancement Therapy
Developed specifically for Project MATCH,1 motivational enhancement therapy (MET) begins with the assumption that the responsibility and capacity for change lie within the client (12,13). The therapist begins by providing individualized feedback about the effects of the patient's drinking. Working closely together, therapist and patient explore the benefits of abstinence, review treatment options, and design a plan to implement treatment goals. Analysis suggests that MET may be one of the most cost-effective of available treatment methods (14). In one study (15), the motivational interviewing technique-a key component of MET-was shown to overcome patients' reluctance to enter treatment more effectively than did conventional techniques.
There are various approaches to marital family therapy. Behavioral-marital therapy (BMT) combines a focus on drinking with efforts to strengthen the marital relationship through shared activities and the teaching of communication and conflict evaluation skills (17). O'Farrell and colleagues (18) combined couples therapy with the learning and rehearsal of a relapse prevention plan. Among alcoholics with severe marital and drinking problems, the combination approach produced improved marital relations and higher abstinence rates through 30 months of followup compared with patients undergoing only BMT (18,19).
The brief intervention approach has also been successfully applied outside the primary care setting. Evidence suggests that 25 to 40 percent of trauma patients may be alcohol dependent (25). Gentilello and colleagues (26) conducted a randomized controlled study among patients in a trauma center who had detectable blood alcohol levels at the time of admission. The researchers found that a single motivational interview at or near the time of discharge reduced drinking levels and re-admission for trauma during 6 months of followup (26). Monti and colleagues (27) conducted a similar randomized controlled study among youth ages 18 to 19 admitted to an emergency room with alcohol-related injuries. After 6 months, although all participants had decreased their alcohol consumption, the group receiving brief intervention had a significantly lower incidence of drinking and driving, traffic violations, alcohol-related injuries, and alcohol-related problems (27).
Brief intervention among freshman college students previously identified as being at high risk for harmful consequences of heavy drinking has been shown to result in a significant decline in alcohol-related problems (28,29).
Treating Alcohol and Nicotine Addiction Together
Nicotine and alcohol interact in the brain, each drug possibly affecting vulnerability to dependence on the other (30). Consequently, some researchers postulate that treating both addictions simultaneously might be an effective, even essential, way to help reduce dependence on both. A recent study by Hurt and colleagues (31) showed that treatment for nicotine dependence did not interfere with abstinence from alcohol or other drugs. Furthermore, such concurrent treatment not only enhanced cessation from smoking, it also did not induce already abstinent smokers to relapse to drinking.
More recently, research has focused on the development of medications for blocking alcohol-brain interactions that might promote alcoholism. In 1995 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the medication naltrexone (ReViaTM) as an aid in preventing relapse among recovering alcoholics who are simultaneously undergoing psychosocial therapy. This approval was based largely on two randomized controlled studies that showed decreased alcohol consumption for longer periods in naltrexone-treated patients compared with those who received a placebo (32,33).
As is the case with all diseases, however, naltrexone is only effective if taken on a regular basis (34). Like all medications, naltrexone has side effects. One recent study reported a high rate of side effects, which probably explains why this study, in contrast with most other studies, failed to find naltrexone effective (35).
Acamprosate showed promise in treating alcoholism in several randomized controlled European trials involving more than 3,000 alcoholic subjects who were also undergoing psychosocial treatment. Analysis of combined results showed that more than twice as many alcoholics receiving acamprosate remained abstinent up to 1 year compared with subjects receiving psychosocial treatment alone (36).
Research suggests that some medications may be more effective for certain types of alcoholics. For example, when ondansetron (Zofran®) was combined with psychotherapy, alcoholics who had begun drinking heavily before age 25 (i.e., early-onset alcoholics) decreased their alcohol consumption and increased their number of abstinent days, but later onset alcoholics did not (37). Sertraline (Zoloft®), in contrast, appears to reduce drinking in late-onset, but not early-onset, alcoholics (38). However, fluoxetine (Prozac®), a medication related to sertraline, has not been found to be effective in late-onset alcoholism (39).
In conclusion, research supports the concept of using medications as an adjunct to the psychosocial therapy of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. However, additional clinical trials are required to identify those patients most likely to benefit from such an approach, to determine the most appropriate medications for different patient types, to establish optimal dosages, and to develop strategies for enhancing patient compliance with medication regimens.
New Advances in Alcoholism Treatment-A Commentary by NIAAA Director Enoch Gordis, M.D.
Alcoholism clinicians have access today to a wide range of treatment options for their patients. Some of these treatments, such as 12-step self-help programs, have been around a long time. Others-including brief intervention and various therapies borrowed from other fields, such as motivational enhancement therapy and couples therapy-are relatively new concepts that have been shown to be effective in reducing the risk for alcohol-related problems. The key change that has occurred, of course, is the advent of alcoholism clinical research, which over the past 15 years or so has made significant progress toward rigorous evaluation of both existing therapies and newly developed therapies for use in treating alcohol-related problems. Finally, continued research on alcohol's effects in the brain and on the links between brain and behavior, which has already led to the development of medications to reduce craving, is likely to provide clinicians with a range of highly specific medications that will, when used in conjunction with behavioral therapies, improve the chance for recovery-and the lives-of those who suffer from alcohol abuse and dependence.
1Project MATCH is a national, multisite, randomized clinical trial that produced data on the outcomes of specific alcoholism treatment approaches.
(1) NIAAA. 10th Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health. NIH Pub No. 00-1583. Bethesda, MD: the Institute, 2000. (2) Woody, G.E.; McLellan, A.T.; Alterman, A.A.; and O'Brien, C.P. Encouraging collaboration between research and clinical practice in alcohol and other drug abuse treatment. Alcohol Health Res World 15(3):221-227, 1991. (3) Fuller, R.K., and Hiller-Sturmhöfel, S. Alcoholism treatment in the United States: An overview. Alcohol Res Health 23(2):69-77, 1999. (4) Humphreys, K.; Mankowski, E.S.; Moos, R.H.; and Finney, J.W. Do enhanced friendship networks and active coping mediate the effect of self-help groups on substance abuse? Ann Behav Med 21(1):54-60, 1999. (5) Emrick, C.D.; Tonigan, J.S.; Montgomery, H.; and Little, L. Alcoholics Anonymous: What is currently known? In: McCrady, B.S., and Miller, W.R. Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: Opportunities and Alternatives. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993. pp. 41-76. (6) Humphreys, K.; Moos, R.H.; and Cohen, C. Social and community resources and long-term recovery from treated and untreated alcoholism. J Stud Alcohol 58(3):231-238, 1997. (7) Tonigan, J.S.; Toscova, R.; and Miller, W.R. Meta-analysis of the literature on Alcoholics Anonymous: Sample and study characteristics moderate findings. J Stud Alcohol 57:65-72, 1996. (8) Walsh, D.C.; Hingson, R.W.; Merrigan, D.M.; et al. A randomized trial of treatment options for alcohol-abusing workers. N Engl J Med 325(11):775-782, 1991. (9) Ouimette, P.C.; Finney, J.W.; and Moos, R.H. Twelve-step and cognitive-behavioral treatment for substance abuse: A comparison of treatment effectiveness. J Consult Clin Psychol 65(2):230-240, 1997. (10) Longabaugh, R.; Wirtz, P.W.; Zweben, A.; and Stout, R.L. Network support for drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous and long-term matching effects. Addict 93(9):1313-1333, 1998. (11) Morgenstern, J.; Labouvie, E.; McCrady, B.S.; Kahler, C.W.; and Frey, R.M. Affiliation with Alcoholics Anonymous after treatment: A study of its therapeutic effects and mechanisms of action. J Consult Clin Psychol 65(5):768-777, 1997. (12) Project MATCH Research Group. Matching alcoholism treatments to client heterogeneity: Project MATCH posttreatment drinking outcomes. J Stud Alcohol 58(1):7-29, 1997. (13) Miller, W.R.; Zweben, A.; DiClemente, C.C.; and Rychatrik, R.G. Motivational Enhancement Therapy Manual. Project MATCH Monograph Series Vol. 2. NIH Pub. No. 94-3723. Rockville, MD: NIAAA, 1995. (14) Cisler, R.; Holder, H.H.; Longabaugh, R.; Stout, R.L.; and Zweben, A. Actual and estimated replication costs for alcohol treatment modalities: Case study from Project MATCH. J Stud Alcohol 59(5):503-512, 1998. (15) Miller, W.R.; Meyers, R.J.; and Tonigan, J.S. Engaging the unmotivated in treatment for alcohol problems: A comparison of three strategies for intervention through family members. J Consult Clin Psychol 67(5):688-697, 1999. (16) Steinglass, P. Family therapy: Alcohol. In: Galanter, M., and Kleber, H.D., eds. The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2d ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1999. (17) O'Farrell, T.O. Marital and family therapy in alcoholism treatment. J Subst Abuse Treat 6:23-29, 1989. (18) O'Farrell, T.J.; Choquette, K.A.; and Cutter, H.S.G. Couples relapse prevention sessions after behavioral marital therapy for male alcoholics: Outcomes during the three years after starting treatment. J Stud Alcohol 59(4):357-370, 1998. (19) McCrady, B.S.; Epstein, E.E.; and Hirsch, L.S. Maintaining change after conjoint behavioral alcohol treatment for men: Outcomes at 6 months. Addict 94(9):1381-1396, 1999. (20) Fleming, M., and Manwell, L.B. Brief intervention in primary care settings: A primary treatment method for at-risk, problem, and dependent drinkers. Alcohol Res & Health 23(2):128-137, 1999. (21) NIAAA. Alcohol Alert No. 43: "Brief Intervention for Alcohol Problems." Bethesda, MD: the Institute, 1999. (22) DiClemente, C.C.; Bellino, L.E.; and Neavins, T.M. Motivation for change and alcoholism treatment. Alcohol Res Health 23(2):86-92, 1999. (23) Fleming, M.F.; Barry, K.L.; Manwell, L.B.; Johnson, K.; and London, R. Brief physician advice for problem alcohol drinkers: A randomized controlled trial in community-based primary care practices. JAMA 277(13):1039-1045, 1997. (24) Israel, Y.; Hollander, O.; Sanchez-Craig, M.; et al. Screening for problem drinking and counseling by the primary care physician-nurse team. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 20(8):1443-1450, 1996. (25) Gentilello, L.M.; Donovan, D.M.; Dunn, C.W.; and Rivara, F.P. Alcohol interventions in trauma centers: Current practice and future directions. JAMA 274(13):1043-1048, 1995. (26) Gentilello, L.M.; Rivara, F.P.; Donovan, D.M.; et al. Alcohol interventions in a trauma center as a means of reducing the risk of injury recurrence. Ann Surg 230(4):473-483, 1999. (27) Monti, P.M.; Colby, S.M.; Barnett, N.P.; et al. Brief intervention for harm reduction with alcohol-positive older adolescents in a hospital emergency department. J Consult Clin Psychol 67(6):989-994, 1999. (28) Marlatt, G.A.; Baer, J.S.; Kivlahan, D.R.; et al. Screening and brief intervention for high-risk college student drinkers: Results from a 2-year follow-up assessment. J Consult Clin Psychol 66(4):604-615, 1998. (29) Roberts, L.J.; Neal, D.J.; Kivlahan, D.R.; Baer, J.S.; and Marlatt, G.A. Individual drinking changes following a brief intervention among college students: Clinical significance in an indicated preventive context. J Consult Clin Psychol 68(3):500-505, 2000. (30) Schiffman, S., and Balabanis, M. Associations between alcohol and tobacco. In: Fertig, J.B., and Allen, J.P., eds. Alcohol and Tobacco: From Basic Science to Clinical Practice. NIAAA Research Monograph No. 30. NIH Pub. No. 95-3531. Bethesda, MD: the Institute, 1995. pp. 17-36. (31) Hurt, R.D.; Eberman, K.M.; Croghan, I.T.; et al. Nicotine dependence treatment during inpatient treatment for other addictions: A prospective intervention trial. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 18(4):867-872, 1994. (32) Volpicelli, J.R.; Alterman, A.I.; Hayashida, M.; and O'Brien, C.P. Naltrexone in the treatment of alcohol dependence. Arch Gen Psychiatry 49:876-880, 1992. (33) O'Malley, S.S.; Jaffe, A.J.; Chang, G.; et al. Naltrexone and coping skills therapy for alcohol dependence: A controlled study. Arch Gen Psychiatry 49(11):881-887, 1992. (34) Volpicelli, J.R.; Rhines, K.C.; Rhines, J.S.; et al. Naltrexone and alcohol dependence: Role of subject compliance. Arch Gen Psychiatry 54(8):737-742, 1997. (35) Kranzler, H.R.; Modesto-Lowe, V.; and Van Kirk, J. Naltrexone vs. nefazodone for treatment of alcohol dependence: A placebo-controlled trial. Neuropsychopharmacology 22(5):493-503, 2000. (36) Swift, R.M. Drug therapy for alcohol dependence. N Engl J Med 340(19):1482-1490, 1999. (37) Johnson, B.A.; Roache, J.D.; Javors, M.A.; et al. Ondansetron for reduction of drinking among biologically predisposed alcoholic patients: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 284(8):963-971, 2000. (38) Pettinati, H.M.; Volpicelli, J.R.; Kranzler, H.R.; et al. Sertraline treatment for alcohol dependence: Interactive effects of medication and alcohol subtype. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 24(7):1041-1049, 2000. (39) Kranzler, H.R.; Burleson, J.A.; Brown, J.; and Babor, T.F. Fluoxetine treatment seems to reduce the beneficial effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy in type B alcoholics. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 20(9):1534-1541, 1996.
Find Top Treatment Facilities Near You
Speak with a Certified Treatment Assesment Counselor who can go over all your treatment options and help you find the right treatment program that fits your needs.
Discuss Treatment Options!
Our Counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to discuss your treatment needs and help you find the right treatment solution.
© Copyright 1998 - 2017 All Rights Reserved. Content is protected under copyright laws, do not use content without written permission.