Approach bias modification during alcohol withdrawal treatment increases duration of post-discharge abstinence

Half of residential alcohol withdrawal patients resume drinking within 2 weeks, and 85% relapse within 1 year. Approach Bias Modification (ABM), a computerised “brain-training” task, aims to reduce alcohol-seeking impulses that are triggered by alcohol-related stimuli. In a multi-site clinical trial of delivering ABM during inpatient withdrawal, 300 participants received daily 15-minute ABM (or control) training sessions for 4 days. Average post-discharge abstinence duration was 4.4 times longer in those who received ABM (53 days vs 12 days in controls; p=.045). ABM increased the rate of complete abstinence during the first 2 weeks following discharge (54% vs 42%; p=.04) and past-month abstinence at the 3-month follow-up (35% vs 22%, p=.01), but differences between groups were non-significant at 6 and 12-month follow-ups. Implementing ABM in detoxification is likely to reduce rates of relapse in the initial months following treatment.


Joshua Garfield Research fellow Monash Addiction Research Centre, Monash University

Dr Joshua Garfield is a research fellow in the Monash Addiction Research Centre, based in the Clinical and Social Research team at Turning Point. He has been the project manager of several clinical trials of approach bias modification for alcohol and methamphetamine use in withdrawal, rehabilitation, outpatient, and community settings.


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