Despite concerns that treatment for alcoholism could somehow worsen or exacerbate posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that physicians can safely treat both conditions simultaneously. Their findings, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, indicate that people with PTSD and alcoholism benefited the most from combined treatments to reduce alcohol cravings and lessen emotional distress, compared with people treated for each condition separately.
"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 Dr. Edna Foa, lead author of the study, to Reuters. "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."
To conduct the study, Dr. Foa and her colleagues split 165 subjects who suffered from both alcohol and PTSD into four treatment groups:
- Group one received naltrexone — a drug used to curb alcohol cravings — and prolonged exposure therapy, which helps patients confront difficult memories.
- Group two received exposure therapy and placebo pills.
- Group three received naltrexone and general support counseling.
- Group four received placebo pills and support counseling.
The researchers found that combined exposure therapy and naltrexone provided the most protection against alcohol relapse.
Dr. Foa told Reuters that she hopes that her research will encourage mental health professionals, especially those working with veterans, to treat PTSD and alcoholism together.