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Behavioral Couples Therapy for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse: How and Why It Works So Well

Is addiction a problem for you or your romantic partner?

Well, if you’re willing to work together as a team and get recovery focused couples therapy you can create a relationship which provides a strong foundation for sobriety.

And though it makes intuitive sense that the people closest to us could help the most, in this case research backs up intuition with findings that show that not only does behavioral couples therapy reduce substance abuse, it can also improve relationship satisfaction, reduce aggression and violence and improve the mental health of affected children.

Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT) for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

Spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends can have a powerful positive or negative influence over substance abuse.

  • Oftentimes, protective instincts lead to enabling behaviors that only make it easier for the drinking or drug use to continue. Good intentions alone don’t really help very much.
  • However, when romantic partners get involved in the therapeutic process and learn to provide the kind of relationship support that strengthens recovery, then the positive influence can be dramatic.

If you or someone you love need(s) substance abuse treatment you may want to consider behavioral couples therapy (BCT) for alcoholism and drug abuse as one good option to try.

The therapy works from the premises that:

  1. Our intimate partners in life exert a strong influence over our behaviors. If trained to support and reward abstinence and good decision-making then they can assist in the recovery process.
  2. Relationship conflict and discord destabilizes the recovery process and increases the chances of relapse.  Therapy which helps to eliminate relationship problems therefore also helps to reduce the odds of early relapse.

What’s Involved in BCT?

During BCT you work, with the help of a therapist, to transition your relationship from an entity that supports drinking or drug use to one that offers a solid foundation for recovery and abstinence.

A round of BCT typically requires 15 to 20 hour long therapy sessions over a 5 to 6 month period.

Typical components of BCT therapy include:

  • The signing of a recovery contract between the therapist and the relationship partners
  • The therapist introduces activities and homework assignments that are intended to increase communication within the relationship, increase positive feelings within the relationship, increase positive shared activities and to prevent relapse.
  • At the start of each session, the couple and therapist discuss any substance use or other breaches of the recovery contract that have occurred since the previous session.
  • The couple present and discuss their relationship homework from the previous session
  • The therapist and the couple talk about emerging relationship problems and how to solve them

Outcomes: How Well Does Behavioral Couples Therapy for Substance Abuse Work?

Based on the outcomes of a number of quality research studies The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) endorses behavioral couples therapy for alcoholism and drug abuse as an effective evidence-based intervention.1

Research tells us that BCT helps to:

  • Reduce substance abuse – Across a variety of studies, compared to people who received alternate care, such as individual therapy, people who received BCT reported less drinking and drug use for up to a year after the completion of therapy (the last follow-up).
  • Improve the quality of romantic relationships – Compared to alternate modes of therapy, people who received BCT reported greater relationship satisfaction in the months following the completion of therapy.
  • Increase participation in other forms of substance abuse therapy – In one study, men who received BCT attended more scheduled treatment sessions and took more naltrexone than men who had not received the therapy.
  • Decrease violence within the relationship – Alcoholic men who received BCT initiated less verbal and physical aggression for at least 2 years after the completion of the therapy.
  • Improve the mental health of children within substance abuse affected families – In one study, 32% of children of couples getting BCT showed psychosocial impairment at the start of the therapeutic process. By a year after the completion of BCT, that percentage had been reduced to 5%

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