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For alcoholics, new help in abstaining -- without thinking about it
Date:3/1/2011

Alcoholism is a tough addiction to kick. Eventually, most people return to drinking. But some Dutch and German psychological scientists have tested a short-term regime that promises to help alcoholics stay sober. Their study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science.

Heavy drinkers tend to behave impulsively in response to temptation. Meanwhile, their "reflective," or controlled, responsesthe thoughts that would help them resist drinkingare often weak. Most therapies, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy, primarily address the reflective responses. "They deal with the reasons and strategies" for sobriety, said University of Amsterdam experimental psychologist Reinout W. Wiers, the study's lead author. To boost treatment success, his team developed cognitive-bias modification, or CBM, which, for the first time, "tries to turn around those impulsive responses."

This newly developed CBM variety employs video-game-like "approach-avoidance tasks": pushing or pulling a joystick in response to images on a screen. Pulling zooms in on the image, as if the participant were "approaching" it. Pushing zooms out, in "avoidance." The team's earlier studies found that heavier drinkers, shown images of alcoholic beverages or soft drinks, are faster to "pull" the alcohol than lighter drinkersbut CBM can turn this "approach bias" into an "avoidance bias."

Could CBM help serious alcoholics? In this study Wiers and his collaboratorsCarolin Eberl and Johannes Lindenmeyer of the Salus Clinic in Lindow, Germany, and Mike Rinck and Eni S. Becker of Radboud Universityrecruited 214 inpatients at the Salus Clinic. Three weeks after detoxification, the patients were assessed for their craving for alcohol, as well as their attraction to it, indicated by joystick and word-association tasks.

One group of patients then received CBM: they were trained to push away pictures of alcoholic drinks. The c
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Contact: Keri Chiodo
kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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