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U.S.: Researchers Set Up Center For Alcoholic Women

Washington, 17 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- An expert on alcoholism says she has started a new five-year treatment and research program for women alcoholics in America to help address their special needs.

Barbara McCrady, a psychology professor at Rutgers University in the eastern state of New Jersey, told RFE/RL that she started the program called "The Women's Treatment Project," because there is virtually "no research" on what type of treatment works best to help alcoholic women.

McCrady says women alcoholics require a different approach than men because they usually have a unique set of problems that contribute to the addiction.

For example, says McCrady, women alcoholics are more likely to have psychological problems, including depression and suicidal tendencies, than men. Women are also more vulnerable than men to diseases of the liver and related health problems, she adds. In fact, adds McCrady, the mortality rate for women alcoholics is two to three times greater than that of men.

Additionally, says McCrady, women alcoholics are usually secret drinkers.

Explains McCrady: "There is still a lot of societal stigma about alcoholism, and particularly alcoholism among women. I think many of the women feel that very acutely, so they feel very ashamed of their drinking, very embarrassed that they drink as heavily as they do."

Women alcoholics are often trapped in a difficult situation, she says, and cannot always rely on their families to support them. Some are prevented from seeking help because of family commitments, she adds.

Moreover, says McCrady, more than half of all women alcoholics in the U.S. have partners who are themselves addicted to drugs or alcohol.

McCrady says: "This only perpetuates the vicious cycle when they have no support relationship to help them break their addiction."

McCrady says she is very interested in how social support and relationships can help a woman overcome her alcoholism. That is why she specially designed her treatment for married women or women in "committed relationships," she says.

McCrady says her research on this type of treatment will focus on determining how these relationships can be used to facilitate a woman's recovery. She adds that she will also try to determine which women respond to individual treatment and which ones do better in couples therapy.

Another part of the program, says McCrady, is intended to help women learn important skills and techniques that will help them stay sober. Since many women alcoholics also suffer from low self-esteem, says McCrady, therapy will also include building self-confidence and self-worth.

McCrady says the treatment will be conducted on an outpatient basis. The program is expected to provide treatment to 120 women by the time it concludes its five-year run, says McCrady.

Participating women receive free evaluations and 20 weeks of free therapy as well as one year follow-up visits and can earn up to $250 for their involvement.

Concludes McCrady: "Our treatment.... is a building kind of treatment -- helping people to identify and face the problems they have in their lives and learning new skills to deal with them. It helps them to develop a stronger sense that they really are able to cope with their lives, and have respect for themselves as well.

McCrady's program is funded by a $2 million grant from the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism -- one of 18 institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health, the principal biomedical research agency of the U.S. government.