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Treating alcoholism - is hospitalization best?

Although alcoholism is now recognized as a disease that requires treatment like any other chronic disorder, the treatment of choice still eludes us. Almost 7 percent of the American population suffers from this most serious personal and social problem that in recent years has seen even prominent persons acknowledge their problems with it.

Nevertheless, disagreement still persists regarding the best form of treatment. A team of Boston University researchers recently found that people who initially were hospitalired for alcoholism had more success controlling their drinking problems than the ones who first went to AlCohOlics Anonymous (AA) or had a choice of treatments.

The researchers studied 200 employees of the Lynn, Massachusetts, General Electric Company plant between 1982 and 1987 and followed each worker over a two-year period. Only 23 percent of the ones whose initial treatment was hospitalization had to be retreated as inpatients. On the other hand, 62 percent of those who began with AA had to be hospitalized later for treatment during the two-year follow-up period.

All three groups made progress, however. Overall, before enrollment in the study, the participants drank an average 6.3 drinks a day; this dropped to 1.5 drinks a day by the end of the study.

Dr. Diana Chapman Walsh, who chairs the Department of Health and Social Behavior at the Harvard School of Public Health, led the study. She believes that structured outpatient programs may be as effective as hospitalization and that, for the future, better strategies are needed to match patients with particular programs. For now, however, inpatient treatment followed by AA appears to be the safest bet when compared to AA alone, says Dr. Walsh.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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