New training technique helps alcoholics in battle with the booze

A new training technique developed in the UK is proving successful in helping excessive drinkers curb their alcohol abuse. Researchers funded by the Economic and Social Research Council have experimentally tested a computer-based training programme which helps abusive drinkers pay less attention to alcohol, feel more in control of their drinking and drink less.

Researchers at the University of Wales found that excessive drinkers cut down significantly on their drinking following their participation in this project's newly developed Alcohol Attention-Control Training Programme (AACTP). Moreover, excessive drinkers were found to have maintained this improvement at a three-month follow-up assessment.

"AACTP is now a tried and tested training programme which can help improve the effectiveness of treatment for alcohol-related problems," explains researcher Professor W. Miles Cox. "AACTP is also a highly accessible tool in that it will eventually offer excessive drinkers the opportunity to participate in this training in their own home over the Internet."

AACTP works by helping excessive drinkers become less distracted by the alcohol stimuli they see around them - stimuli which range from pictures of alcoholic beverages to bottles of alcohol in the local off-licence window or on the shelves of a supermarket.

"Excessive drinkers unconsciously pay too much attention to the alcohol-related stimuli that surround us all," Professor Cox points out. "When excessive drinkers encounter drink-related stimuli, this activates automatic thought processes which stimulate them to want a drink and to actually take a drink. Hence the simple consequence of helping excessive drinkers pay less attention to alcohol in their environment is that they gain more confidence in their ability to control their own behaviour, and then they drink less."

The ACCTP training procedure developed by Professor W. Miles Cox and Dr Javad S. Fadardi is a computerised programme based on goal-setting techniques with immediate feedback. For example, two bottles - an alcoholic and non-alcoholic one - appear on the computer screen each surrounded by a different colour. The participant must then identify the colour surrounding the non-alcoholic bottle as quickly as possible.

"This training causes people to become faster at ignoring alcoholic stimuli," explains Professor Cox. "Over a course of four sessions, our sample of excessive drinkers showed significant reductions in their attentional focus on alcohol which translated into lower alcohol consumption."

In terms of conquering alcohol addiction, Professor Cox argues that "different interventions are required by different people. It could be that AACTP is all that is required to halt alcohol abuse in an early stage drinker. But others may need further help to curb their drinking habit. While ACCTP can reduce a person's bias towards alcohol, the reality for many is that when they stop drinking it creates a void in their lives. Permanent change in drinking habits usually requires a person to restructure their lives in ways that can fill that void."

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Professor W. Miles Cox on 01248 383774 or Email: m.cox@bangor.ac.uk

Or Alexandra Saxon or Annika Howard at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119 or e-mail alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk or annika.howard@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The research project 'Developing and evaluating attention-diversion training for excessive drinkers' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Professor W. Miles Cox and Dr Javad S. Fadardi are at the School of Psychology, Brigantia Building, Penrallt Road, University of Wales, Bangor, LL57 2AS.

2. Methodology: In this study researchers developed and evaluated an alcohol attention-control-training programme for reducing excessive drinking. A total of 220 people were tested. Participants who completed all sessions were (a) 40 social drinkers (14 per cent male, with a mean age of 30 years and a mean weekly drinking of 9 units); (b) 68 heavy drinkers (17 per cent male, with a mean age of 23 years and a mean weekly drinking of 42 units); and (c) 50 excessive drinkers (86 per cent male, with a mean age of 42 years and a mean weekly drinking of 72 units). All participants were tested for their attentional bias for alcohol. The excessive drinkers received the full course of the computerised training programme consisting of four sessions over one month. As a result of the training, they showed significant reductions in their alcohol consumption that were maintained at the three-month follow-up.

3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005-06 was £135 million. At any time, the ESRC supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

5. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research was graded as 'good'.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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