Researchers have discovered a computer-based training program can teach heavy drinkers skills to control drinking frequency and intake amount. The cognitive behavioral technique, developed in the UK, is proving successful in helping excessive drinkers curb their alcohol abuse. The program 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 Program (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 program 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-license 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 behavior, and then they drink less.”
The ACCTP training procedure developed by Professor W. Miles Cox and Dr Javad S. Fadardi is a computerized program 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 color. The participant must then identify the color 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.”