A past VA study found that as many as 3 in 4 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans receiving care through VA who had an alcohol or substance use disorder also had PTSD or depression. Treating the combined disorders has been a challenge for clinicians. (Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/Nomadsoul1)
A type of psychotherapy called prolonged exposure therapy is more effective at treating PTSD than Seeking Safety, a coping-skills therapy, for patients who also have alcohol use disorder.
That was the finding from a recent study at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. The results offer important guidance for VA clinicians who care for Veterans coping with both PTSD and problem drinking.
The researchers compared patients who were given integrated alcohol and prolonged exposure treatment with those given integrated alcohol and coping-skills treatment.
Both treatments reduced PTSD symptoms and heavy drinking. But patients receiving prolonged exposure therapy had significantly lower scores on a measure of PTSD symptoms. The researchers concluded that prolonged exposure therapy should be offered to patients with PTSD whenever possible, including to patients with alcohol use disorder.
The results appeared recently in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Dr. Sonya Norman led the study. She is a researcher at the San Diego VA, director of the PTSD Consultation Program for the National Center for PTSD, and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego.
Norman explained that the results could lead to better treatment for PTSD.
“The research is not showing concerns that PTSD patients with alcohol use disorder can’t handle exposure to be true,” she said. “The main takeaway of the study for me is that we may be doing a disservice to Veterans if we don’t offer them the best treatments we have available for PTSD, such as prolonged exposure.”
To read more about this study, visit VA Research Currents.
For general information about VA research on PTSD and substance use disorders, visit the topic pages section of the VA Research website.