Women who are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol dependence present with significant comorbid health-related problems, but female-specific cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) shows great promise as a potential intervention to reduce alcohol use, and thus, to diminish the negative health consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.
The findings of this study, which involved 138 females who are dependent on alcohol, indicate that 3-month long, female-specific alcohol treatment significantly improves overall quality of life across multiple domains, including the physical and psychological health. Investigators affiliated with Rutgers University, Yale School of Medicine, the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, and the University of New Mexico recently published their findings in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
Despite ample evidence that the prevalence of severe problems and health-related consequences due to excessive alcohol use among females is higher compared with those of males, studies that examine gender differences, or female-specific AUD-related health problems, are limited. It is known that the pattern of alcohol use problems is different between females and males. For example, compared with men, women diagnosed with AUD have higher rates of premature death due to alcohol abuse, as well as higher rates of cancer and cirrhosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Although, in the past, researchers have compared the relative risk for certain health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, that are associated with excess alcohol consumption, “little is known about the rates of comorbid medical conditions in women presenting for alcohol treatment,” the authors wrote in their publication.
In the current randomized clinical trial, investigators assessed the baseline health status, as well as comorbid health conditions, in a sample of women starting in an outpatient alcohol treatment. Researchers also assessed whether a 12-week long female-specific, group (n=65) or individual (n=73), CBT intervention for AUD benefits participants’ physical and/or psychological health. The two groups of women were not different with regard to age, race, education, employment, marital status, pre-treatment alcohol use, or pre-treatment quality of life. Self-reported health status was assessed by using the World Health Organization Quality of Life (WHOQOL) measure.
Findings show that the CBT condition (ie, group therapy vs. individual treatment) did not significantly moderate the observed changes in average drinks consumed per drinking day [mean=7.1 drinks per day (SD=4.6) at baseline vs. mean=4.2 drinks per day (SD=4.3) after treatment], or in terms of percent days abstinent [mean=34.8% days abstinent (SD=30.5) at baseline vs. mean=74.6% days abstinent (SD=26.4) after treatment].
With regard to the changes in quality of life from baseline to end-of-treatment, investigators reported significant improvements in overall quality of life and health satisfaction, as well as in physical and psychological health. Again, the CBT condition (ie, group vs. individual therapy) did not significantly moderate the observed changes.
In line with previous reports with regard to cigarette smoking, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as well as other behavioral counseling interventions, appear to hold great promise for abstinence from alcohol among women. “There are collateral health benefits from alcohol treatment that could be used to inform the development and delivery of generalized interventions targeting women’s health behaviors,” the authors concluded.
Bold KW, Epstein EE, McCrady BS. Baseline health status and quality of life after alcohol treatment for women with alcohol dependence. Addict Behav. 2016;64:35-41.