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PFP study on PTSD and alcohol use published in Cogent Medicine

A recent study by Places for People may help provide more effective treatment options in the future for people living with PTSD and substance use disorders.

The findings of a research project by Pallavi Nishith, Ph.D. were published in the July 2019 edition of Cogent Medicine in the article, “Alcohol expectancies in persons with severe mental illness and posttraumatic stress disorder.” (https://doi.org/10.1080/2331205X.2019.1635805) Dr. Gary Morse, Places for People Vice President of Research and Development, and Dr. Kim T. Mueser, a clinical psychologist and Professor at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University, were co-authors of the study.

The study compared alcohol use expectancies between individuals with a serious mental illness and PTSD with an alcohol use disorder, to individuals with serious mental illness and PTSD without an alcohol use disorder.

Current estimates show that 29-43 percent of people living with serious mental illness experience PTSD, which is much higher than the current estimates of 8-12 percent of the general population. Nishith, a Staff Psychologist at Places for People, has focused her career on treating people living with serious mental illness and PTSD. Her exploration of this topic dates back to the 1990s when she studied it during an internship with Mueser.

The primary finding of this study was that individuals with alcohol use disorder did not experience the same relaxation and tension reduction as reported in prior studies. The findings of the study suggests that individuals with SMI and PTSD use alcohol as a stimulant to cope with or counteract the effects of avoidance and numbing symptoms, which makes these individuals more prone to developing alcohol use disorders. The study also found that these individuals do not have the expectancy that alcohol use will reduce tension or promote relaxation.

Nishith said she spent a year conducting this research, a year writing the research article, then worked for a year to get it published.

“What I would like to do is integrate these findings with existing interventions for PTSD,” Nishith said. Currently, PTSD and substance use disorders are most often treated independently. Nishith sees value in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy to integrate more targeted treatments for people living with PTSD, serious mental illness, and alcohol use disorders.