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Computer Program Helps Drug Abusers Stay Clean

Software training supplements counseling, could also treat other psychiatric disorders

THURSDAY, May 8 (HealthDay News) -- The use of a computer-assisted training program, in addition to traditional counseling, helped drug abusers stay abstinent longer than counseling alone, a Yale University School of Medicine study found.

The trial included 77 people who sought treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. They were randomly assigned to receive traditional counseling alone or traditional counseling combined with computer-assisted training based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. The computer-assisted program included text, audio and videotaped examples designed to help the user learn new ways to avoid drug use and to change other behavior problems.

The computer-assisted training included six lessons. Each lesson included a brief video that presented a particular challenge to the user's ability to resist substance use, such as the offer of drugs from a dealer. A narrator then presented different skills and strategies to avoid drug use, along with videos of people using those strategies.

Participants in the computer-assisted training group had significantly fewer positive drug tests at the end of the study.

"We think this is a very exciting way of reaching more people who may have substance use problems and providing a means of helping them learn effective ways to change their behavior," study lead author Kathleen M. Carroll, a professor of psychiatry, said in a prepared statement.

The study was published in the May 1 online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

While cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be an effective way to treat a wide variety of psychiatric disorders, it's not widely available for people with substance use problems, Carroll noted.

The software program she and her colleagues created is meant to help supplement standard drug counseling, and can also be used in the treatment of other psychiatric disorders.

"At first glance, one might conclude that this computer-based training in some way threatens the conventionally perceived value of the relationship between the therapist and the patient, however, I do not see it as so," Dr. William Sledge, interim chair and professor of psychiatry at Yale, said in a prepared statement. "Rather, (the researchers) have demonstrated how a low cost but carefully conceived procedure can enhance conventional treatment and add an additional element of richness and effectiveness to its power."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about drug abuse and addiction.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, May 1, 2008

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