In short, what is the study about?
Compared to men, women with alcohol dependence and other use disorders have higher rates of many health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers and have higher rates of premature death from alcohol-related problems. Our study examined rates of health problems among 138 women who entered a 12-week treatment program for alcohol use. We compared several quality-of-life domains (physical, psychological, social, and environmental health) before and after treatment to see if providing alcohol use treatment may be one way to promote positive change in both alcohol use and women’s health overall.
What would be the most important take-home messages from the study?
The results suggest there are collateral health benefits from alcohol treatment that could be used to inform the development and delivery of generalized interventions targeting women’s health behaviors. Women had high rates of health problems at the beginning of the study. Over half of the sample was overweight or obese and other health concerns included being a current smoker, hypertension, arthritis, high cholesterol, asthma, and heart problems. At the end of the 12-week treatment, we saw significant reductions in alcohol use and greatly improved quality of life across all domains. Additionally, women who achieved more days without drinking during treatment had greater overall health satisfaction and psychological quality of life at the end of treatment.
How are these findings important in practice?
Given the high rates of medical problems for women with alcohol use disorders, it may be important for substance use counselors to screen for and encourage appropriate medical care to enhance health outcomes. At the same time, other research suggests that the majority of heavy drinkers do not seek alcohol treatment, and women are especially likely to report social stigmatization as a barrier to alcohol treatment. Instead, women are more likely to visit physicians or primary care offices, so it may also be important to provide screening or interventions to address alcohol use alongside other health interventions in primary care settings.
What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding or application of the findings?
Future research could consider using baseline health profiles to tailor aspects of treatment, such as including smoking cessation components or enhancing motivation to reduce alcohol use as a way to promote other health improvements. Additionally, identifying the most effective components of alcohol treatment for women may inform the development of integrated treatment addressing both alcohol use and medical problems to promote women’s health overall.
Bold, K. W., Epstein, E. W., & McCrady, B. S. (2016). Baseline health status and quality of life after alcohol treatment for women with alcohol dependence. Addictive Behaviors, 64, 35-41. DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.08.014
Other good resources for more information on women’s health and substance use include:
Epstein E,E., Menges, D. (2013). Women and Addiction. In McCrady, B.S., & Epstein, E.E. (eds.), Addictions: A comprehensive guidebook. Oxford University Press, New York. pp. 788-818.
Kay, A., Taylor, T. E., Barthwell, A. G., Wichelecki, J., & Leopold, V. (2010). Substance use and women’s health. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 29(2), 139-163.
Dr. Krysten Bold is a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University School of Medicine. Her research focuses on understanding risk factors for tobacco and alcohol use to inform prevention and intervention programs. Her recent publication in Addictive Behaviors with Drs. Elizabeth Epstein and Barbara McCrady presented findings from research conducted at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey examining treatment effects for women with alcohol use disorders. Dr. Krysten Bold can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org