Boston University Studying Better Treatments for Alcoholism

Researchers want to find new and better ways to treat the disease.

Boston University School of Medicine image provided.

Boston University School of Medicine image provided.

Transdiagnostic cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a short-term, psychotherapeutic treatment used to treat a variety of disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. But Boston University (BU) researchers wanted to find out if the behavioral treatment could help people with alcoholism.

BU conducted a study on the effect of behavioral therapy combined with medication on patients with alcoholism and anxiety and after 11 weeks the participants in the group receiving a placebo and CBT alone reported their heavy drinking had significantly decreased.

The findings, which were published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, suggest that CBT was more effective in reducing heavy drinking in anxious alcoholics than progressive muscle relaxation therapy (PMR). They also found that the addition of medication to either CBT or PMR participants did not decrease their alcohol consumption.

According to a report from Boston University School of Medicine:

Participants were divided into four groups; one receiving the antidepressant Venlaflaxine coupled with CBT, one receiving Venlaflaxine with PMR, and the other groups receiving a placebo coupled with either CBT or PMR. After 11 weeks the participants in the group receiving a placebo and CBT alone reported their heavy drinking had significantly decreased when compared to the other groups receiving treatment.

“It is vital to find better treatments, whether they are medication therapies or behavioral interventions,” said Domenic Ciraulo, MD, chair of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), and principal investigator of the study. “This study points to the importance of behavioral approaches to decrease heavy drinking through strategies to improve emotional regulation.”

According to the researchers, CBT may have been effective because of its ability to acknowledge and respond to intense feelings, while anti-depressant medications may help to control just the anxious feelings. Researchers say that this may be why the addition of an anti-depressant to CBT did not lead to improved outcomes.

David H. Barlow, PhD, professor of psychology at Boston University (BU), says that the goal of Transdiagnostic CBT in this study was not to directly treat the specific anxiety symptoms of each anxiety disorder. “Rather [teaching] broad skills to cope with emotional issues that underlie a cluster of internalizing mood and anxiety disorders that often accompany alcoholism and may contribute to its onset and maintenance,” he says.