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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Substance Abuse Group Therapy

Q. I would appreciate any information on the subject of group therapy in the treatment of substance abuse.

A. There is some reasonably good evidence that group therapy is helpful in the treatment of substance abuse. For example, Monras et al (Med Clin (Barc) 2000 Jun 24;115(4):126-31) looked at the effects of adding group therapy to standard treatment in a population of alcoholics. They found that group therapy was effective in increasing abstinence. Its effect appeared from the 3rd month and increased from the 6th to 12th month.

However, some patients may refuse to attend group sessions, and some who don't accept abstinence as a goal may interfere with group dynamics. Freimuth (Int J Group Psychother 2000 Jul;50(3):297-314) reviewed the integration of group psychotherapy and 12-step work, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. It appears that 12-step work supports the abstinence necessary for the focus on emotional growth in psychotherapy.

For a complete review of Group Therapy in the treatment of substance abuse, I suggest you see the chapter by Golden et al, in the American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, edited by Galanter & Kleber (1994). While citing many positive aspects of group treatment, these authors also note the lack of well-controlled studies in this population.

April 2001

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