New UTHealth therapy targets PTSD, substance use disorders

March 02, 2015

HOUSTON - (March 2, 2015) - A new cognitive behavioral therapy designed to treat both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders is the focus of research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School.

The therapy, called Treatment of Integrated Post-traumatic Stress and Substance Use (TIPSS), was developed by Anka Vujanovic, Ph.D., who leads the Trauma and Addiction Research Program at the UTHealth Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addiction in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

PTSD results from exposure to a traumatic event, defined as actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence against self or others. It is associated with significant functional impairment and negative health outcomes.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms include reliving the trauma over and over, bad dreams and frightening thoughts. People with PTSD may have feelings of strong guilt, depression or worry and they may lose interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past. They also may be easily startled, feel tense, have trouble sleeping and/or have angry outbursts.

Previous research has indicated that PTSD carries a substantially elevated risk for substance use disorders and it has been documented as a significant risk factor for worse substance abuse treatment outcomes.

"Treatment for PTSD has historically been done separately from treatment for substance use disorders," said Vujanovic, UTHealth assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "We are testing an evidence-based integrated treatment designed to target both in the same therapy with the goal of improving outcomes." To do so, Vujanovic and colleagues are comparing TIPSS to standard cognitive-behavioral treatment for substance use disorders.

Both types of treatment focus on noticing thoughts and feelings and how they affect drug use and other behaviors. TIPSS also involves talking about PTSD symptoms, building distress tolerance skills, reflecting on the impact of the trauma and substance abuse and challenging problematic thinking patterns related to the trauma and the substance abuse.

The study is funded by a $412,000 Career Development Award grant from the National Institutes of Health/UTHealth Clinical and Translational Sciences (KL2TR000370-07).
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Adults between the ages of 18-65 who have experienced trauma and are using drugs or alcohol regularly may qualify. Researchers will enroll 100 patients until the end of 2016. Study participants will be randomized into two groups: standard treatment or TIPSS and will meet with a counselor 12 times over six weeks. For more information, call 713-500-3784.

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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