Researchers Discover Cost Effective Alcohol Treatment Programme
Sep 10, 2005 - 12:23:38 AM

Research published today by psychologists at the University of Birmingham in The BMJ (9th September 05) has found that two different strategies of treatment are highly effective for those who are alcohol dependent and that for every £1 spent on these treatments, £5 of the tax payers’ money is saved.

These conclusions are the result of the UK’s largest study into alcohol treatment involving over 700 patients and 50 therapists. Two non-residential treatments – social behaviour and network therapy and motivational enhancement therapy – were compared. The strategies resulted in equally good outcomes and have made significant changes in the amount of alcohol consumed by patients and also had a positive effect on the health of the patients undertaking the study.

After 3 months of therapy the number of alcohol-abstaining days had risen by almost 50% for both treatments, while the number of drinks per day had dropped by a third. Similar results were maintained over a 12 month period and clients also reported improvements in mental health and general well-being.

The first treatment method - Motivational Enhancement Therapy - encourages people to stop or reduce their drinking by strengthening motivation. The patient discusses his or her drinking habits with a specially trained therapist and is asked to open up about the perceived positive effects of drinking, but at the same time, is asked to consider the harmful effects of regular heavy drinking. The therapist encourages the patient to state an intention to cut down on drinking, or to stop drinking altogether. Feedback of test results, including blood tests of liver functioning, play an important role in the treatment.

The second strategy, originally developed by psychologists at the University of Birmingham, is Social Behaviour and Network Therapy, which helps the patient to develop a network of friends, colleagues and family members who can be a positive influence during recovery. The therapist works with the patient to identify those people who will be supportive and reassuring and will also invite them along to the consultations. If the patient has lost touch with friends and family members because of the drink problem, the therapist will help the patient to find a way to re-establish those friendships. The social focus of the treatment means that not only those with alcohol problems, but also those significantly affected by the problem can receive help.

All the therapists were provided with a manual and were trained to the same level by experts in alcohol addiction. They also received close attention from a supervisor during the patient consultation process and all sessions were videotaped, allowing the supervisor to give feedback on a one to one basis.

Professor Jim Orford from the School of Psychology and lead investigator in the project says, ‘Alcohol dependency is still one of the biggest health issues in the UK on a par with anxiety and depression. The government has shown concern recently about young people’s tendency to binge drink, but our study focuses on the damaging effects of long term alcohol addiction.

‘The research has shown that a consistent and standardised approach to treating alcohol dependent people has a healthy success rate and that the patients are more likely to respond to treatment and reduce or stop their drinking if they are under close supervision by specially trained professionals.

‘Sometimes patients and their families find it difficult to get the right treatment, so raising the awareness and improving accessibility to treatment will lead to better results in treating alcohol dependent people.’

Dr Alex Copello, clinical director of substance misuse services for the NHS in Birmingham and Solihull and a principal investigator for the trial says, ‘It is important for those in charge of commissioning health services to note the potential savings in other health related areas that can be achieved by investment in alcohol problems treatment that can be delivered to large numbers of people in community settings.’

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