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Female alcoholics may need treatment therapies different from traditional therapies that have evolved from the treatment of male alcoholics, according to a paper published this summer by a research team including Michelle L. Kelley, Old Dominion University professor of psychology.

Women respond better to therapies that focus on family and personal relationships, report the researchers, whose paper was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

"The reasons for drinking, the reasons for seeking treatment and the outcomes from treatment differ for men and women," said Kelley. "One problem is that, historically, alcoholism was considered a problem of men, and, therefore, our knowledge of men was assumed to explain the behavior of female alcoholics."

The researchers looked at more than 120 female alcoholics whose male partners were not substance abusers. The female patients responded better to couples therapy, emphasizing relationships and drinking problems simultaneously, than they did to traditional therapies, which focus only on abstinence.
Patients who underwent couples therapy showed greater reductions in drinking and higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships than patients who received traditional therapies such as one-on-one counseling and abstinence lectures.

Women who received couples therapy in the clinical study also reported lower levels of domestic violence during the year after treatment. William Fals-Stewart, who works for the Addiction and Family Research Group of RTI International and is the first author of the paper, said, "The reductions in physical aggression between partners observed in this study, along with decreases in drinking, strongly support the use of couples therapy as a treatment for married or cohabiting women seeking help for alcoholism."

Kelley said the couples therapy comprised 10 once-a-week sessions stressing the abstinence support that can be given by the partners of the female patients. "We focused on how partners can positively support sobriety, and how the couple can relearn to enjoy activities together and communicate more effectively. This appears to be beneficial over other forms of treatment for alcohol abuse," she explained.

Recent research by Kelley has examined outcomes for children of a drug-abusing or alcohol-abusing parent, the effects of deployment on Navy families and the importance of fathers in children's development.

This article was posted on: August 23, 2006

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