Phone Counseling Effective for Alcoholism
> 7/25/2007 12:56:49 PM

Often, a primary care physician can see the ravages of alcohol in a patient’s body even though the patient has not asked for help. The approach to treating these people must be subtler than caring for those who voluntarily admit themselves to a rehabilitation center. While it must be gentle, a definite intervention at an early stage of alcoholism can drastically improve the course of the disease if it is successful.

Doctors from the University of Wisconsin tested a combination phone-mail treatment on random patients who had not asked for help with their alcoholism even though they clearly exhibited symptoms. The treatment consists of six telephone counseling sessions, focusing on motivating and informing, and summaries of those sessions mailed out as reminders afterwards. While you might not expect patients to be very receptive to treatment that they had no hand in initiating, the results were actually very promising.

Patients receiving the phone-mail treatment did significantly better than a control group that received only a pamphlet on alcoholism. Men reduced the number of risky drinking days by 30.6% as opposed to 8.3% for controls. Women reduced risky days by 17.2% instead of 11.5% for controls. Clearly, this treatment is very effective for curbing abuse in male patients. The results for women are harder to read.

The female results lend themselves to two main interpretations, though others are certainly possible. First possibility-- women may have a socially-formed difference in the way that they view alcoholism and treatment. For them, being designated as an alcoholic by their doctors is the greatest impetus for change, and additional counseling has only a small beneficial effect. Second possibility—there is a biological difference in the nature of addiction for men and women. The evidence for this is by no means complete, but an article we wrote yesterday discussed findings that the female brain is more vulnerable to brain damage because of its different reaction to ethanol. It is conceivable that sex-specific treatments need to be devised.

Despite the sex-disparate results of the phone-mail study, the treatment was successful enough to merit its adoption by general practitioners. This is another example of how preventative care, in the primary care environment or even by specialists who are familiar with the client, can save money and time, and most importantly, avoid disastrous outcomes in the future. This technique requires minimal effort and can catch drinkers before they turn up desperate at a clinic’s door with irreparable damages to health and relationships.

The only element lacking from this study was a cost-effectiveness evaluation. While mail reminders are surely more economical than office visits, they seem antiquated in the Internet age. We have covered a range of new therapeutic techniques taking advantage of email and video-conferencing, and it reasonable to assume that the results of the phone-mail treatment will be even more pronounced with the application of Internet tools.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy