13 Apr Automated Care Helps Alcoholics Maintain Sobriety
Alcohol treatment programs can use a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people recovering from alcoholism establish drinking abstinence or substantially reduce their alcohol intake. However, individuals who initially benefit from CBT often eventually return to excessive drinking. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the University of Vermont assessed the potential effectiveness of a phone-based automated system, called Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response (ATIVR), in helping to extend the treatment benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy. These researchers concluded that ATIVR may help people who have successfully established alcohol abstinence by the end of active therapy involvement.
Alcoholism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Alcoholism is a common term for physical alcohol dependence, a condition that overlaps with non-addicted alcohol abuse and forms part of a diagnosable disease called alcohol use disorder. A physically dependent alcohol consumer has a biologically established need to keep drinking, and treatment programs must successfully address and overcome this need in order to produce lasting results for their clients/patients. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of experience-oriented psychotherapy originally developed specifically to help physically dependent drinkers avoid relapsing back into active alcohol use after entering treatment.
During CBT, people affected by alcoholism (or other forms of addiction such as stimulant addiction and marijuana addiction) learn to understand the key underlying motivations for their reliance on substance use in stressful or unpleasant situations. They also learn to recognize real-world behaviors that support substance use and gradually learn how to develop replacement behaviors that help them maintain abstinence and reduce their relapse risks. Most people go through cognitive behavioral therapy in face-to-face sessions conducted individually by a trained therapist or in group sessions that include others dealing with similar substance problems. However, some people now receive a more or less equally effective form of CBT based on customized computer software.
Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response
Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response was designed by researchers at the University of Vermont to augment the lasting benefits of participation in cognitive behavioral therapy. This automated, phone-accessible maintenance program includes a mandatory, daily questionnaire that asks people who have completed alcoholism treatment to do such things as gauge their current mood, gauge the current state of their coping skills, gauge their stress levels and report their adherence to the prescribed use of treatment-related medications. It also includes an optional review of some of the core skills taught during active CBT participation, a way to remotely practice important CBT skills and periodic feedback from a trained cognitive behavioral therapist.
Does It Help?
In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, the University of Vermont researchers used data collected from a group of 158 adults to gauge the usefulness of Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response in extending the treatment benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy. All of the study participants were physically dependent alcohol consumers who received a three-month outpatient course of CBT. After completing this course, 81 of the participants received access to Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response for a period of four months. The remaining 77 participants did not receive access to this automated, ongoing care.
When the researchers compared the outcomes for the two groups of study participants, they found that the people who had access to CBT and Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response consumed alcohol on significantly fewer days each week than the people who only had access to CBT. The benefits of the automated care approach were particularly evident among those people who had already completely stopped drinking by the end of their active involvement in cognitive behavioral therapy. These individuals had a much easier time stringing together alcohol-abstinent days post-treatment. The study participants who had not established abstinence at the end of CBT did not benefit as clearly from access to Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response.
The study’s authors emphasize the fact that, even without access to automated, ongoing care, people who receive cognitive behavioral therapy for alcoholism have better treatment outcomes than people who don’t receive the therapy. They also note that a reduced number of weekly drinking days appears to be the only clear benefit of Alcohol Therapeutic Interactive Voice Response after completion of CBT. Still, the authors believe that this singular benefit may make an important difference for the long-term prospects of people who successfully stop drinking by the time their courses of cognitive behavioral therapy come to an end.
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