Treatments for alcohol abuse save society five times as much as they cost

September 08, 2005

Two types of non-residential treatments for alcohol abuse are highly effective and save society five times as much as they cost to run, say two papers in this week's BMJ.

In the first ever UK Alcohol Treatment Trial researchers compared the success of a new treatment - social behaviour and network therapy - with the tried and tested motivational enhancement therapy. Both of these allow clients to continue their daily lives rather than involving residential stays.

As part of the study a separate paper looked at the cost effectiveness of both treatments.

The study involved over 600 people with alcohol problems across three regions - West Midlands, South Wales and Leeds. Clients were from a range of social backgrounds, and were interviewed at the start of the study, after three months, and again after 12 months.

The researchers found that both sets of treatments resulted in much-reduced levels of alcohol consumption and dependency on alcohol. After three months of therapy, the number of alcohol-abstaining days had risen by almost 50% on average for both treatments, while the number of drinks per day had dropped by a third.

Importantly clients sustained these levels of success, with similar results maintained twelve months into the programme.

The therapies were also effective in reducing alcohol related problems - decreasing by 50% on average for both therapies after 12 months. Clients also reported improvements in mental health and general well-being.

In determining the cost effectiveness of both therapies, researchers looked at the cost of the treatments (training and salaries of therapists, hire of therapy rooms, etc), and the clients' cost impact on public sector resources before treatment, such as use of social services and appearances in court. They also included the impact on health services before treatment - such as use of GP time and number of hospital visits.

They found that the therapies resulted in substantial savings across health and social services - saving the public purse five times as much per client as the sum spent on their treatment.

As the name suggests social behaviour and network therapy helps people with alcohol problems to build social networks to support them in changing their drinking behaviour, and involves up to eight 50 minute sessions with a therapist.

Motivational enhancement therapy, made up of three 50 minute sessions, combines motivational counselling with feedback on progress.

Training therapists for both sets of treatment costs little and results in significant financial gains for the economy, the authors conclude.


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