Matt G. Kushner, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) has earned the latest Dan Anderson Research Award for his study examining the effectiveness of a hybrid cognitive behavioral therapy in the treatment of individuals with co-occurring anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence. Sponsored by the Butler Center for Research at Hazelden, the award honors a single published article by a researcher who has advanced the scientific knowledge of addiction treatment and recovery.
Dr. Kushner earned the award for his study, "Hybrid cognitive behavioral therapy versus relaxation training for co-occurring anxiety and alcohol disorder: A randomized clinical trial," published in 2013 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The study focused on 344 individuals undergoing residential treatment for a substance use disorder - all of whom also had a current diagnosis of social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, or panic disorder. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Progressive Muscle Relaxation Training (PMRT). The CBT treatment was a hybrid approach developed by Dr. Kushner and his colleagues and focused specifically on disrupting the psychological processes linking feelings of anxiety to alcohol use. The primary aim of the study was to examine whether the CBT approach, relative to the PMRT treatment, improved alcohol use outcomes in the four months following treatment. Dr. Kushner and his colleagues concluded from the work that disrupting the psychological linkages between anxiety feelings and the inclination to use alcohol appear to be more important than simply reducing anxiety in these patients through conventional psychiatric and psychological treatments.
"Individuals with an anxiety disorder are two to four times more likely to be dependent on alcohol than are others in the general U.S. community" said Kushner. "The strong correlation between them suggests that important etiologic and/or maintaining processes link these conditions." Dr. Ken Winters, also a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, nominated Dr. Kushner for the award, stating "This paper is a seminal contribution with the potential to change both the practice of alcohol treatment and to alter the course of comorbidity research."
The study produced several interesting and noteworthy results. As predicted, the group of patients receiving the hybrid CBT had significant better alcohol outcomes four months after treatment. They were significantly less likely than PMRT participants to relapse to any alcohol use and had significantly fewer drinking days. In addition, both groups experienced a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms in the four months following treatment. These data, along with supplemental analyses, provide compelling evidence that aiming treatment at the conjunction of anxiety and alcohol use is more effective than treating the conditions as independent problems.