Helping someone overcome an addiction to alcohol is difficult and requires a lot of effort on the part of the addict, loved ones and treatment or counseling team. However, helping someone who is addicted to alcohol and also suffering from a mental illness can be even harder.
This smaller portion of the population are often forced to receive treatment for the mental illness and alcoholism separately, which makes it more unlikely that they will actually overcome their addiction. In order to find a better solution to this problem, researchers at Washington State University conducted a study that examined a potentially better form of treatment for those that have been diagnosed with an addiction to alcohol and a mental illness.
This particular experiment centered around small rewards for submitting clean urine tests. Participants that had been identified as alcohol dependent and suffering from a severe mental illness were split into two groups. The first group, of about forty subjects, were given small prizes if they passed a urine analysis test. The other group, made up of the same amount of people, were given rewards whether they passed the test or not. The study lasted about 12 weeks. The researchers found that subjects who had been given rewards for staying clean were more likely to stay clean, even after the 12-week study. Additionally, researchers also noted that drug use and tobacco use were also diminished in the group that received rewards for passing their tests. This was not the intention of the study, but interesting because it appears that the reward system is powerful enough to address more than one addiction at a time.
“Our findings suggest that contingency management is a feasible approach for people with alcohol problems. And it may be particularly effective in those with serious mental illness – such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – a high-cost and difficult-to-engage population,” explained Michael McDonell, associate professor in WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
While this particular group is not vast, mental illness paired with an alcohol addiction can be extremely dangerous and costly to the individual, family and society. Developing an effective way to treat these patients is important and may also open doors for more successful treatment modalities for non-mental health patients that suffer from alcoholism.