Clinical and Research News
Helping Youth With Drinking Problems
Psychiatric News
Volume 44 Number 1 page 11-11

Although alcoholism treatments for adolescents have not been as extensively researched as alcoholism treatments for adults, there have been advances in this arena during the past few years. The treatments for youth that have the strongest scientific base to date are membership in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), group therapy based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and other psychosocial-treatment approaches, Samuel Kuperman, M.D., said in an interview. Kuperman is chair of child psychiatry at the University of Iowa and an expert on alcoholism in youth.

Whether one of these treatments is more effective than another in youth is largely unclear. However, Howard Liddle, Ed.D., a professor at the University of Miami Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent Drug Abuse, and colleagues conducted a study to see how individual CBT compared with multidimensional family therapy (MDFT) in helping youth reduce their alcohol use. Both therapies were delivered in weekly, office-based sessions. Both produced a significant, and comparable, reduction in alcohol use, Liddle and his team reported in the October 2008 Addiction.

While medications to reduce alcohol intake have been found to be effective in adults, they aren't used much in young people, Kuperman reported. One reason why, he explained, is because youth who abuse alcohol may also be using street drugs or abusing prescription medications; thus, if they were given medication to reduce alcohol intake, it might cause deleterious drug interactions.

One challenge in trying to help youth with alcohol problems, Kuperman pointed out, is that they often also have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder. So even if they decrease their alcohol use, these disorders still need to be addressed. If the ADHD is appropriately treated, it may well decrease the alcohol intake, Kuperman added. Several studies have found that this is so, he noted.

Trying to help youth with alcohol problems has its rewards, Kuperman said. For example, a number of youth realize that they have an alcohol problem and want help for it. Their families and teachers are grateful when they do better. And since alcohol intoxication plays a major role in impulsive suicides by youth, treating them for their alcohol problem may decrease their risk of impulsive suicide as well.

To find appropriate treatment for a youth with alcohol problems, parents can make an appointment with a child psychiatrist, contact their local AA chapter, or ask their local high school for the names of clinicians who treat youth for alcoholism, Kuperman advised. ▪

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