Alcohol abuse is associated with enormous healthcare costs and it is also one of the leading preventable causes of death. The social, economic and health implications of alcohol abuse in the United States are significant. As per statistics from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 15.1 million adults aged 18 or older suffered from alcohol abuse disorder (AUD). This included 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women. The problem is magnified when AUD occurs simultaneously with serious mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
A new study by researchers from the Washington State University has highlighted the effectiveness of offering prizes and rewards as a low-cost treatment option for individuals suffering from alcohol abuse and serious mental illnesses simultaneously. The findings may benefit large sections of the affected population who are not able to afford the high cost of rehab treatment.
Participants included 79 outpatients at a community mental health center in Seattle who were suffering from serious mental illnesses and alcohol addiction. The researchers divided the participants into two groups: the first one, comprising nearly 50 percent participants, was the beneficiary of the 12-week rewards intervention, known as contingency management in healthcare research. The group received prizes subject to addiction treatment attendance and negative urine test results for alcohol use. The remaining participants served as a control group – rewards were given irrespective of addiction treatment attendance or urine test results. Prizes used in the study included items of daily necessities such as shampoo, soap, clothing and jewelry, cooking supplies, gift cards, DVD players, microwaves and digital media players. Results of the study were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Contingency management goes beyond treating only alcohol abuse disorders
Findings of the study showed that the probability of participants testing positive for alcohol use in the first group was three times lower than participants in the second group. It was also observed that the decrease in alcohol consumption continued throughout the study’s three-month follow-up period. An unexpected gain from the study was the reduction in participants’ drug and tobacco consumption: in the first group, the probability of smokers testing positive for tobacco use reduced by five times compared to participants in the second group, whereas there was a three-time reduction in cocaine use.
According to Dr. Michael McDonell, an associate professor in Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the lead author of the study, of the total population which suffers from alcohol abuse and serious mental health disorders, only 12 percent are able to get treatment for both the conditions simultaneously. Majority of such individuals are treated separately, which makes the treatment process complicated and decreases the chances of successful recovery. This increases the likelihood of discontinued treatment, homelessness, expensive psychiatric hospitalization and poor physical health among affected individuals.
Donell mentions that the use of contingency management can help in treating alcohol addiction and mental illness concurrently. The treatment’s efficacy is observed in not just reduction of alcohol consumption but also in reduction of smoking and improvement in overall health. A prize-based system mitigates the issue of lack of rehab centers in rural and low-resource areas. The rewards process is relatively simple and does not involve significant administrative overheads. It is intended to add a fun element and motivate people who have just started rehab treatment.
Rewards-based treatment in cases of severe alcohol addiction will be the subject of the next proposed study. The researchers will also investigate the efficacy of using contingency management to treat alcohol problems in the American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Recovery road map
The study is the first to prove the effectiveness of rewards in treating alcohol abuse. Similar research in other areas will help in extending the treatment to a larger population, which will bring down mortality rates due to alcohol.
Co-occurring disorders can be treated with a supportive detoxification program, behavioral therapies and medication. If someone you know is suffering from a mental illness as well as substance use disorder, contact the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline for expert advice on the best dual diagnosis treatment centers in California that address the underlying problem and help reduce the risk of relapse. You can call our 24/7 helpline number 855-980-1736 or chat online to know more about effective rehab centers in California that have certified medical staff with abundant knowledge and experience.