Psychological Treatments For Alcoholism Are Ineffective


Reanalysis of data
collected from the most expensive research into the treatment of alcoholism has
found little support for the use of psychological therapies.
The research compared a number
of psychosocial treatments (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Motivational
Enhancement Therapy and Twelve Step Facilitation – based on the method used by
Alcoholics Anonymous) and found that they accounted for only 3% of the variability
in the patient’s outcome. In other words, psychological therapies hardly had
any beneficial effect in treating alcoholics.
The failure of current methods
of treatment is particularly highlighted by the fact that this study found
that, in clinical trials, untreated alcoholics showed significant improvements
– almost as much as those who received treatment.
How is it that new therapies
are often adopted before they have been properly tested? Part of the problem
for psychology, despite the lip-service paid to the importance of the evidence
base, is the relative ease of introducing new treatments. Unlike pharmaceutical
treatments, psychological treatments are unlikely to have damaging
side-effects. Combine this with the problem for much scientific research that
negative results often go unreported, and the seeds are there for a
proliferation of ineffective therapies.
Despite this seeming like bad
news for psychological approaches to alcoholism, it shows the importance of the
scientific method in psychology. The strength of any science is founded on its
ability to admit when the evidence does not support the treatment methods
currently used. And for alcoholism this evidence shows little support for
psychological treatments.
This kind of evidence, however,
does not show that psychological therapies are never going to be any use in the
treatment of alcoholism, only that the correct method has not yet been found.
Admitting failure is the first step towards finding a better way. This is why,
sometimes a negative result is actually a positive one.
the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.