Editor’s Note: The journal Addiction occasionally features critical perspectives on debates in addiction studies. Below is a selection of recent publications dealing with topical issues in the field.
Ed Day & Luke Mitcheson
Background and Aims: Clinical guidelines from around the world recommend the delivery of psychosocial interventions as part of routine care in opiate substitution treatment (OST) programmes. However, although individual studies demonstrate benefit for structured psychosocial interventions, meta-analytical reviews find no benefit for manual-based treatments beyond ‘routine counselling’.
Analysis: We consider the question of whether OST medication alone is sufficient to produce the required outcomes, or whether greater efforts should be made to provide high-quality psychosocial treatment alongside medication. In so doing, we consider the nuances and limitations of the evidence and the organizational barriers to transferring it into routine practice.
Conclusion: The evidence base for psychosocial interventions in opiate substitution treatment (OST) services can be interpreted both positively and negatively. Steering a path between overly optimistic or nihilistic interpretations of the value of psychosocial treatment in OST programmes is the most pragmatic approach. Greater attention should be paid to elements common to all psychological treatments (such as therapeutic alliance), but also to the sequencing and packaging of psychosocial elements and their linkage to peer-led interventions.
Daniel Kardefelt-Winther et al.
Following the recent changes to the diagnostic category for addictive disorders in DSM-5, it is urgent to clarify what constitutes behavioural addiction to have a clear direction for future research and classification. However, in the years following the release of DSM-5, an expanding body of research has increasingly classified engagement in a wide range of common behaviours and leisure activities as possible behavioural addiction. If this expansion does not end, both the relevance and the credibility of the field of addictive disorders might be questioned, which may prompt a dismissive appraisal of the new DSM-5 subcategory for behavioural addiction. We propose an operational definition of behavioural addiction together with a number of exclusion criteria, to avoid pathologizing common behaviours and provide a common ground for further research. The definition and its exclusion criteria are clarified and justified by illustrating how these address a number of theoretical and methodological shortcomings that result from existing conceptualizations. We invite other researchers to extend our definition under an Open Science Foundation framework.
Background: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a world-wide recovery mutual-help organization that continues to arouse controversy. In large part, concerns persist because of AA’s ostensibly quasi-religious/spiritual orientation and emphasis. In 1990 the United States’ Institute of Medicine called for more studies on AA’s effectiveness and its mechanisms of behavior change (MOBC) stimulating a flurry of federally funded research. This paper reviews the religious/spiritual origins of AA and its program and contrasts its theory with findings from this latest research.
Method: Literature review, summary and synthesis of studies examining AA’s MOBC.
Results: While AA’s original main text (‘the Big Book’, 1939) purports that recovery is achieved through quasi-religious/spiritual means (‘spiritual awakening’), findings from studies on MOBC suggest this may be true only for a minority of participants with high addiction severity. AA’s beneficial effects seem to be carried predominantly by social, cognitive and affective mechanisms. These mechanisms are more aligned with the experiences reported by AA’s own larger and more diverse membership as detailed in its later social, cognitive and behaviorally oriented publications (e.g. Living Sober, 1975) written when AA membership numbered more than a million men and women.
Conclusions: Alcoholics Anonymous appears to be an effective clinical and public health ally that aids addiction recovery through its ability to mobilize therapeutic mechanisms similar to those mobilized in formal treatment, but is able to do this for free over the long term in the communities in which people live.
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