Treatment Program Effective in Helping Women Problem Drinkers Decrease Alcohol Use

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: September 27, 2001 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Women with a history of problem drinking exhibited significant increases in abstinence and light-drinking days, and decreases in heavy drinking, after participating in a 10-week program at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions.

One hundred forty-four women participated in the Women and Health Program, which focused on teaching techniques and strategies for reducing alcohol consumption. Overall, women consumed significantly less alcohol during the 18 months after treatment.

"These results provide support for the use of a drinking moderation approach with this population of women problem drinkers," according to Gerard J. Connors, Ph.D., RIA director and UB professor of psychology. He and co-investigator Kimberly S. Walitzer, Ph.D., deputy director of the institute and UB research assistant professor of psychology, focused their study on drinking reduction and the minimization of alcohol-related harm. The RIA has been a world leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse for more than 30 years.

In addition to reductions in drinking, participants also reported significant decreases in drinking consequences and increases in drinking-related self-efficacy, general self-esteem, assertiveness and psychological functioning from before to after treatment and during the 18-month follow-up.

"We also studied two treatment enhancements in our study," explained Connors. "The first was the addition of life-skills training sessions, and the second was participation in 'booster sessions' after treatment."

"The most intriguing finding in this study was that the women who were heavier drinkers at pre-treatment responded the most to the treatment enhancements, that is, to the life-skills training and the booster sessions," Connors said. "Women who were the relatively lighter drinkers in the sample responded equally well to treatment, regardless of whether they received treatment enhancements."

Walitzer explained that the study "was designed to include women with no history of severe physical dependence on alcohol. In clinical terms, they would not be described as alcoholic, but rather as early-stage problem drinkers. Eligibility criteria included being 21 years of age or older, drinking at least 15 drinks per week, or at least two drinking days a week of six drinks each day, and interest in reducing their alcohol consumption."

The program consisted of 10 weekly, two-hour outpatient sessions conducted in small groups of three to six women and led by two female therapists. "Target exercises" or homework assignments were provided for the first nine treatment sessions and included exercises such as practicing drinking-reduction strategies, identifying high-risk situations, and weekly self-monitoring of alcohol consumption.

Women who were assigned randomly to receive the life-skills enhancement also received seven hours of life-skills training on topics such as relaxation, problem-solving, and communication. For those assigned to receive booster sessions, eight additional sessions were held over the six months following treatment.