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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

PTSD and Substance Abuse Treated Together

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often goes untreated, plaguing individuals throughout their life. Untreated PTSD can lead to substance abuse issues or exacerbate pre-existing addiction in a patient. Research has shown that the two problems need to be addressed in conjunction and can be safely treated together, a new study concludes.

There has been a standing concern that the study addresses, the idea that treating PTSD could worsen alcoholism by bringing up painful memories, Reuters reports. With about one-third of patients with PTSD developing alcohol dependence at some point in their life, there is a need to treat PTSD, the article notes.

165 people with both PTSD and substance abuse problems were studied by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. 

 Patients were assigned to one of four treatment groups:
  • One group was given a drug that reduces alcohol cravings, naltrexone, and prolonged exposure therapy.
  • A group received naltrexone and general counseling.
  • Another group received prolonged exposure therapy and placebo pills.
  • The last group received placebo pills and support counseling.
After six months of treatment the patients were observed. Each patient group had a lower percentage of drinking days and reduced cravings. The groups given naltrexone had a lower percentage of drinking days.

Those who received prolonged exposure therapy and naltrexone had a drinking relapse rate of 5.4 percent. Patients on a placebo who received supportive counseling had a relapse rate of 13.3 percent. 

“What we found is that those people that got (medication) plus prolonged exposure therapy for alcohol dependence together with the treatment for PTSD did the best for maintaining their low level of drinking,” said lead author Edna Foa. “If you are trying to treat the alcohol addiction without any treatment of the PTSD what will happen is that they will stop drinking and the PTSD will become more severe, so what they will do is start drinking again.”

The findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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