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Is Alcohol Assessment Therapeutic? Pretreatment Change in Drinking among Alcohol-Dependent Women

Elizabeth E. Epstein, Michelle L. Drapkin, David A. Yusko, Sharon M. Cook, Barbara S. McCrady, Noelle K. Jensen

Objective: Participants in alcohol treatment outcome studies typically undergo extensive assessment protocols to determine eligibility and provide descriptive and predictive data before beginning therapy. Changes in alcohol consumption as a result of reactivity to assessment have generally not been studied; most researchers collapse data across the pretreatment period and compare them with within-treatment and posttreatment periods. Previously we found a reduction in drinking days from 90 days prebaseline to 3 months postbaseline, with no significant additional reduction during the second 3 months of treatment, in a clinical trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for alcohol-dependent women. The current study examined the points at which these participants stopped or reduced their drinking during the pretreatment assessment period. Method: As part of a randomized clinical trial of 6 months of individual or couples CBT for 102 alcoholic women, study participants were assessed briefly via a telephone screen, a 90-minute clinical intake session with their spouses, and then a 3- to 4-hour baseline research interview. Results: Changes in drinking frequency occurred at all four points in the pretreatment assessment process, resulting in 44% of the participants becoming abstinent before the first session of treatment. A decrease in drinking quantity across the assessment period also was found. Participants who significantly reduced drinking prior to Session 1 demonstrated better drinking outcomes during and 12 months after treatment. Conclusions: Changes in alcohol consumption during the assessment process in treatment outcome studies should be examined in future studies, as implications abound for interpretation of results from clinical trials. Also, implications regarding the active ingredients in brief interventions and mechanisms of the therapeutic impact of alcohol assessment should be further addressed. (J. Stud. Alcohol 66: 369-378, 2005)