Helping the female partners of men abusing alcohol: a comparison of three treatments.
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Aim. To evaluate the effectiveness of three approaches to assisting the female partners of male problem drinkers with the stress imposed by the male's drinking. Design. Participants were assigned randomly via random number tables to one of three treatment conditions: supportive counselling, stress management or alcohol-focused couples therapy. Setting. The intervention took place at the Behaviour Research and Therapy Centre (BRTC), The University of Queensland. This research and training centre offers outpatient psychology services to the community. Participants. Sixty-one married women whose husbands drank heavily. Participants reported protracted alcohol problems, severe impact of alcohol on social functioning and severe marital distress. Measurement. The women's stress, alcohol consumption by the male, and relationship functioning were assessed at pre- and post-treatment and at 6-month follow-up. Interventions. All three treatments involved 15 1-hour sessions with the woman. In the alcohol-focused couple therapy, attempts were made to engage the man in these sessions. Results. Contrary to our predictions, there were few differences between the treatments. All three treatments were associated with reductions in the women's reported stress, with trends for somewhat greater reduction in the women's stress in the stress management and alcohol-focused couples therapy conditions than for supportive counselling. None of the treatments produced clinically significant reductions in men's drinking or relationship distress. Conclusion. The treatments ease stresses and burden but do not improve drinking or relationships. Limited power in the design restricted the capacity to detect differential treatment effects.