Managing anger, boosting activity helps substance abusers stick with treatment

Encouraging substance abusers to participate in more rewarding activities and manage their negative emotions early in treatment may improve their chances of success, new research suggests.

Previous research has repeatedly shown that participants who stick with their treatment programs for the longest times are most likely to recover and not relapse, explains lead author Carolynn Kohn, Ph.D., of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. Prior research also has shown that people whose basic approach to coping with problems is tackling them, not avoiding them, are most likely to succeed in treatment.

The researchers note that the study provides evidence for a link between emotional outbursts and a higher risk of dropping out of treatment, as well as lower risk for patients who engage in rewarding activities that do not involve chemical use.

To determine which specific coping strategies might predict longer -- and therefore more successful -- participation in treatment, Kohn and her colleagues followed 747 adults admitted to an outpatient chemical dependence treatment program. The program consisted of eight weeks of treatment, followed by 10 months of aftercare.

Each participant completed a questionnaire upon admission to treatment that measured reliance on different "approach" and "avoidance" coping strategies. The "approach" strategies included such tactics as attempting to better understand the problem and dealing with it directly. The "avoidance" strategies included avoiding thinking about the problem, becoming involved in substitute activities that provide satisfaction and reducing tension by inappropriately venting negative feelings.

The researchers' findings, reported in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, confirm that at least one avoidance behavior may be a risk factor for dropping out of treatment. Participants who relied most heavily on emotional discharge, they found, also tended to le

Contact: Laura Marshall
Center for the Advancement of Health

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