Study tests treating alcohol use disorder and PTSD together

April 20, 2023
Man bowing head over steepled hands. He is wearing camouflage fatigues.
A substantial proportion of people with alcohol use disorder also meet criteria for PTSD. Photo provided

This report is used with permission from the University of Houston

A multi-site randomized controlled trial led by the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Houston seeks to prove the effectiveness of treating alcohol use disorder, also known as AUD, and posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, together. 

It’s a one-two punch whose time has come, the researchers said. No treatment combining cognitive processing therapy for PTSD with relapse prevention for alcohol use disorder exists. 

Smiling woman with long honey blonde hair, glasses and a black top poses for her headshot. 
Dr. Anka Vujanovic

“A substantial proportion of individuals with AUD also meet criteria for PTSD. The co-occurrence of AUD/PTSD is characterized by more severe symptomatology, greater functional impairment, increased suicide risk and poorer treatment outcomes as compared to either disorder alone,” said Anka Vujanovic, Ph.D. She’s a professor of psychology and director of the Trauma and Stress Studies Center at the University of Houston.

Vujanovic and Sudie Back, Ph.D., a professor of in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC, have received a grant of $3,461,217 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to conduct the trial. “Cognitive processing therapy for PTSD and relapse prevention for AUD are two of the most widely used and efficacious behavioral treatments for these conditions,” Back said.

Vujanovic developed and pilot tested a therapy manual that combines cognitive processing therapy with relapse prevention treatment. “The preliminary data demonstrate safety, feasibility, high rates of retention and patient satisfaction,” Back said.   

Smiling woman with blonde hair and glasses wearing a black jacket. 
Dr. Sudie Back

The trial’s main objective is to examine the effectiveness of the combination compared with relapse prevention treatment alone in reducing alcohol use frequency and quantity and PTSD symptom severity. The team will also evaluate behavior change daily using innovative mobile technology.  

“This study aligns closely with the mission of NIAAA in that it aims to produce maximally efficacious behavioral interventions for AUD and comorbid psychiatric disorders such as PTSD. The findings from this study will provide new information to advance the science of AUD/PTSD comorbidity and innovate clinical practice,” said Vujanovic.  

“The intervention to be tested is supported by promising preliminary data and a high level of enthusiasm from national providers, conferring strong potential for uptake in diverse clinical settings and delivery by a range of clinical providers,” Back said.  

The findings have the potential to open a new avenue of trauma-focused integrative treatment for alcohol use disorder/PTSD and significantly enhance patient reach, retention and clinical outcomes, according to the team. 

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