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Match alcoholism treatments to character types? Won't work


But experts say any competent treatment helps

December 17, 1996
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It seemed a fair hypothesis: analyze the character of an alcohol abuse patient, then send him to the best type of therapy. The practice gained popularity among alcohol-abuse experts, who found the theory quite sensible.

However, in a newly-released study conducted by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), the theory didn't pan out.

The study screened more than 1,700 patients to determine a number of factors, including how severe their drinking problem was, how motivated they were to change, and whether they had any other psychological problems.


Then, the patients were sent up to one of three 12-week programs designed to treat alcoholism. Some went to a 12-step program based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, others attended special training where they learned skills to avoid a relapse. A final group attended therapy designed to motivate patients to stay sober on their own.

As it turned out, neither treatment was the best for any particular type of patient. However, experts said, all three programs helped patients reduce the number of days they drink a month from 25 to 6 days, and to drink less at each sitting.

The finding is good news for alcoholics in treatment, who no longer have to wonder whether they might be better served by another type of approach.

"If they go to a competently-run program with competent people, where all aspects of the patient's consequences of alcoholism are addressed, they are likely to do as well there as in another program which does a somewhat different kind of therapy," said Dr. Enoch Gordis of the NIAAA.


Mark Rydland successfully completed an alcohol treatment program. Doctors tried a number of approaches to help him stay sober, and found a combination is what worked best.

"I think the program gave me different tools to work with. They gave me the education I needed, they gave me people to talk with ... people to assess what I needed," he said.


Rydland's doctor isn't surprised to hear that a variety of approaches work.

"I think what many of us have done for a long time is use something of each of the three approaches," said Dr. Rodney Burbach of Suburban Hospital.

Now comes the next step, health experts say: to combine those approaches with new drugs, and to learn more about the brain chemistry of alcoholism.

Correspondent Eugenia Halsey and Reuters contributed to this report.


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