Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Treatment of alcoholism: New results

In Brief

Treatment of alcoholism: New results

In 1997, Project MATCH — sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — found that three psychosocial treatments for alcoholism were all about equally effective: cognitive behavioral therapy to correct distorted and self-defeating thinking; motivational interviewing to improve willingness and readiness to quit; and 12-step facilitation to prepare patients for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Further studies under the same sponsorship are yielding results. This time, psychosocial treatments were combined with one or both of two medications that were not available at the time of Project MATCH. Some combinations proved more effective than others, but the advantages did not last long. Meanwhile, other research is showing that many alcoholics may need no treatment at all.

In the NIAAA-sponsored Combining Medications and Behavioral Interventions (COMBINE) study, nearly 1,400 alcoholics were treated for four months with one or more of these treatments: weekly medical management (office visits with a doctor or nurse for discussion and support); combined behavioral intervention (including all three of the methods tested in Project MATCH); naltrexone (a drug that blocks some effects of both opiates and alcohol); acamprosate (a drug believed to promote abstinence and prevent relapse); and a placebo (sugar pill).

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