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'Peers' Can Help Alcoholics

One Drunk Talking with Another Still Works

By BuddyT

Bill W. was right. One drunk talking with another is one of the most effective ways to reach problem drinkers with the message of recovery, as a newly released study demonstrates.

"A recovering alcoholic can help alcoholics who are still suffering from the disease, because the patients relate to them," Dr. Richard D. Blondell, an addiction medicine specialist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky, told Reuters Health. "The patients credit the visitor as the main thing that motivated them."

Blondell's study, published in the May issue of Journal of Family Practice, seems to back up the claim published in the book Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939, in the chapter "Working With Others," which told recovering alcoholics, "You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail. Remember they are very ill."

Although Blondell's research used members of Alcoholics Anonymous to approach hospitalized alcoholics, we can assume the same principle would apply to those who are recovering through other recovery methods.

The Study

In the study, Blondell's researchers studied 140 patients who had been admitted to emergency rooms with elevated levels of drugs or alcohol in their blood. They were divided into three groups.

One group received standard medical care only. The second received medical care plus a 15-minute intervention from a doctor who was a trained addiction specialist. The final group received standard medical care, intervention from an addiction specialist and an in-depth meeting with a recovering alcoholic who had volunteered to talk to patients.

The recovering alcoholics were matched to the patient by gender and race when possible.

The researchers contacted the patients up to a year later and asked them if they had abstained from alcohol in the 6 months after discharge and had entered a treatment program, or support group, such as Alcohol Anonymous (AA).

Half the patients who met with recovering alcoholics reported they had entered some form of treatment, compared with only 15 percent of those who received medical treatment and counseling from an addiction specialist.

The study also showed that 59 percent of those who had met with peers reported abstaining from drinking since discharge, compared with 44 percent of those who received addiction counseling and one-third who had only received medical care.

Inexpensive Approach

"The important thing is that 49 percent got hooked up with AA," Blondell said. "That gives them a chance of maintaining that reduction in drinking, hooking up with a program that might actually keep them that way."

Blondell said his findings on peer counseling match those of brief interventions using trained medical professionals. "It's cheap and practical," he added. "Any town with a hospital and some AA groups could start doing this tomorrow."

However, the study does not prove that the intervention has a lasting effect, Blondell said. Previous studies have shown that brief interventions such as these work, but the effects may only last around a year.

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