Marital therapy may be more effective at treating female alcoholics than traditional methods, according to the findings of a new study by researchers at RTI International; University of Southern California, San Diego; and Old Dominion University.
The study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, looked at more than 120 female alcoholic patients and their male partners who were not substance abusers.
Researchers found that women alcoholics treated with behavior couples therapy combined with individual alcoholism treatment reported greater reductions in drinking and higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships during the year following treatment compared to women alcoholics who received traditional one-on-one counseling only or those who participated in educational lectures with their partners.
"Family and relationship factors play a particularly critical role in the drinking problems of women," said William Fals-Stewart, Ph.D., RTI's principal investigator and lead author for the study. "Interventions specifically designed to address both relationship and drinking problems at the same time are more likely to have a greater benefit for female alcoholic patients than traditional treatment methods for alcoholism, which largely focus on drinking only."
In addition, female patients and their partners who received couples therapy reported lower levels of domestic violence during the year after treatment than patients who received the other interventions.
"Domestic violence is a significant and prevalent problem for alcoholic women who are involved in committed relationships, whether they are married or not," said Fals-Stewart. "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."
Most investigations exploring outcomes of treatments for alcoholism have almost exclusively studied male alcoholics. However, because of significant behavioral, social and emotional differences between alcoholic men and women, results of studies on men may not apply to women. Thus, several federal agencies have called for studies that examine the needs of alcoholic women. The present investigation is one of only a few studies that have focused exclusively on women with alcohol problems and the first clinical trial to examine the effect of behavioral couples therapy with female alcoholic patients.