Behavioral Couples Therapy for Female Drug-Abusing Patients Multiple studies indicates that participation in Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT) is associated with robust positive outcomes for drug-abusing and alcoholic patients. BCT produced better outcomes than more typical individual-based treatment (IBT) for married or cohabiting drug-abusing and alcoholic patients in a meta-analysis of 12 controlled studies that showed a medium effect size favoring BCT over individual treatment. However, nearly all BCT studies have been done with male drug-abusing or alcoholic patients. Although interpersonal conflict and relationship factors play a particularly important role in the substance abuse problems of women, only 2 controlled studies (1 with drug-abusing and 1 with alcoholic women) have examined the efficacy of BCT with women patients. Both studies found positive results for BCT, but findings favoring BCT over IBT were less robust and less long-lasting for drug-abusing women. Drug-abusing women may present special challenges for BCT, relative to alcoholic women and drug- abusing or alcoholic men. They have greater relationship problems than these other types of substance-abusing couples. This may reduce the effectiveness of BCT by making it more difficult for the couple to work together collaboratively to promote abstinence in the female drug-abusing patient. A theoretical mechanism of change for BCT is that BCT improves relationship functioning during treatment more than IBT and this improved relationship functioning leads to better abstinence outcomes after treatment. However, if relationship improvements are only weakly better for BCT than IBT, this may undermine sustainability of abstinence in the year after treatment. Also, women drug-abuse patients often have extensive psychiatric problems (e.g., depression, PTSD) and male partners who drink heavily or use drugs - factors that may reduce (i.e. moderate) the impact of BCT relative to IBT. The proposed studywillevaluateBCT for women drug-abusing patients to determine whether the superiority of BCT over IBT outcomes observed for men generalizes to women drug-abusing patients. The study will replicate, extend, and overcome key limitations of the only prior study of BCT with female drug-abusing patients. This randomized trial compares BCT plus IBT with IBT alone for women drug-abusing patients. Married or cohabiting female drug-abusing patients(N=160)seeking outpatient treatment and their non-substance-abusing male partners will be randomized to 24 treatment sessions over a 12-week period consisting of either: (a) BCT plus IBT;or (b) IBT for the patient alone. We will test the prediction that BCT + IBT will produce better outcomes than IBT alone as shown by data collected from patients and spouses during and immediately after treatment and at quarterly follow-ups for 12 months after treatment. Outcome domains examined will include substance use and problems, relationship adjustment, and partner violence. We also will explore possible improvements in children's functioning after their parents receive BCT, mechanisms of action and potential moderators for BCT outcomes.

Public Health Relevance

In treating drug addiction, many studies of male patients show Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT) helps the whole family (the drug abuser, the relationship partner, and their children) and is more effective than typical individual and group counseling. Only one study of BCT has been done with female drug-abusing patients, and results were promising but not definitive. The proposed study will test with married or cohabiting female drug-abusing patients whether BCT will produce more positive outcomes for the women, their male partners, and their children than standard individual counseling for the patient alone.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDA1-EXL-T (08))
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Chambers, Jessica Campbell
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Harvard University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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O'Farrell, Timothy J; Schumm, Jeremiah A; Murphy, Marie M et al. (2017) A randomized clinical trial of behavioral couples therapy versus individually-based treatment for drug-abusing women. J Consult Clin Psychol 85:309-322