Rewards can effectively treat alcohol abuse in those with mental illness, finds study

Rewards can effectively treat alcohol abuse in those with mental illness, finds study

Alcohol has been labeled as the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The worst part is that people fighting alcoholism are prone to develop a range of psychiatric illnesses, also known as dual diagnosis, which can worsen the existing condition. In fact, people who are suffering from mental illnesses also have a chance of developing alcohol addiction as there is always a tendency for such people to self-medicate with substances.

But, no matter how grave the problem of dual diagnosis is, most people can still benefit from the treatments involving behavioral therapy, medications, mutual support groups or face-to-face counseling. Recently, a study conducted by researchers at the Washington State University demonstrated a unique way of reducing the urge to drink in chronic patients. Small rewards such as a 20$ worth jewelry set, shampoos and DVD sets could substantially alter the alcohol intake in people suffering from mental illness, observed the study. Interestingly, participants who were offered such rewards showed a remarkable decrease in their alcohol consumption, which persisted even in the follow-up sessions.

Using contingency management to simultaneously treat addiction and mental illness

In the past, contingency management, which in the medical parlance is related to the way rewards can be channelized in the treatment of addiction, demonstrated positive results in the treatment of substance abuse. The present study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, is the first of its kind to use rewards as a motivation to prevent alcohol abuse. The study is seen as a low-cost alternative treatment for millions of American adults diagnosed with alcohol use disorder coexisting with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolarity.

Commenting on the role of rewards in treating addictions in the mentally ill patients, lead researcher Michael McDonell, an associate professor in WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, said, “Using contingency management, we can treat their addiction at the same time as their mental illness, which can impact not only their alcohol and drug use but also reduce smoking and improve health”.

Using contingency management in rural settings

The absence of rehabs and treatment centers in far-flung areas and rural settings is a huge roadblock for public health care. Remote areas also lack a proper infrastructure and seasoned professionals for treating various mental health conditions. Thus, a system of rewards could be a handy tool in preventing homelessness and mortality arising out of unrestrained substance abuse.

As part of the study, the researchers evaluated 79 outpatients from a Seattle-based community health care to study the efficacy of rewards for treating substance abuse. Participants, who received gifts in the 12-week reward intervention program, showed regular attendance and negative tests for urine as opposed to the control group who were not offered any reward during the study period. Moreover, there was a remarkable decrease in tobacco and cocaine consumption in the reward group.

The study clearly shows the efficacy of motivational therapy and the way it adds an element of fun in people who are new to recovery. “Our findings suggest that contingency management is a feasible approach for people with alcohol problems,” said McDonell. “And it may be particularly effective in those with serious mental illness — such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — a high-cost and difficult-to-engage population,” he added.

Road to recovery

The ambivalence of Americans toward alcohol has only resulted in its consistent use despite its addictive properties. The psychological impact that drinking has on people cannot be ignored. Hence, it has become imperative to find out about any drinking problem among those who are depressed, have social response problems and cognitive difficulties.

If you or someone you know has been struggling with addiction problems coupled with psychiatric disorders, the Dual Diagnosis Helpline can assist you in finding the best dual diagnosis rehab centers in the U.S. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047 or chat online to know about various dual diagnosis rehabs in your vicinity.