Helping Women with Alcohol and Violence Issues Through Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a therapeutic approach that focuses on increasing a client’s attentiveness and awareness of the present, through acceptance and understanding, without judgment. Mindfulness-based approaches have been shown to help increase emotional regulation in people with many different psychological issues, including, drinking problems, suicidal ideation, gambling addiction, self-harm behaviors, depression, anxiety, and many others. One of the many benefits of mindfulness therapy is that it can address multiple issues at a time. Individuals who have addictions often pick up a new behavior when they let go of their addiction. For example, people who quit smoking might then struggle with overeating. For these people, mindfulness can help with both the abstinence and the new maladaptive coping strategy. Women who abuse alcohol are at increased risk for other problems, one of which is domestic violence. Although men perpetrate more violence than women, women who have alcohol misuse issues are more likely to engage in violent and aggressive behaviors as a response to violence. They also initiate more violence than nondrinkers, and this behavior often results in retaliation that puts them at risk for serious injury. In addition, children who are parented by a woman with violent and drinking issues are more likely to suffer maltreatment through neglect or abuse. These women are hard to help because of the complex relationship between their drinking behaviors and aggressive tendencies. The likelihood of these women adhering to treatment is also very low. Therefore, mindfulness may provide a much needed treatment avenue for these unique women.

To determine how mindfulness and modification therapy (MMT), an approach based on mindfulness therapy, could help women with alcohol problems decrease their drinking and violent behaviors, Peggilee Wupperman of the Psychology Department of John Jay College at the City University of New York conducted a study of 14 women who were required to attend alcohol misuse and aggression therapy. The women were enrolled in 12 sessions of MMT and were assessed for emotional regulation, violent behavior, and alcohol consumption before and after the treatment. Wupperman found that all of the women responded very positively to the therapy. Specifically, there were dramatic decreases in alcohol use, and the retention rate was close to 95%, much higher than the average 50% that is reported in traditional court-referred treatments. The women in the study all reported having improved greatly as a result of the therapy. They felt better about themselves and their relationships with others. In addition, they were more confident in their skill levels and felt better equipped to cope with their violent behaviors in a productive way, rather than through alcohol misuse. The only negative expressed by the women was the length of the course. More than half of the women reported that they would have liked the course to be longer. This suggests that the women were eager to continue developing new tools and maintain their abstinence or decreased drinking. Wupperman said, “These findings suggest that a focus on mindfulness might be an acceptable and beneficial component in treating this critically underserved population.”

Wupperman, P., Marlatt, A. G., Cunningham, A., Bowen, S., Berking, M., Mulvhill-Rivera, N., et al. (2012). Mindfulness and modification therapy for behavioral dysregulation: Results from a pilot study targeting alcohol use and aggression in women. Journal of Clinical Psychology 68.1, 50-66.

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  • Sallie

    April 7th, 2012 at 4:41 AM

    Who are these women who exhibit all of this violence when drinking? Me and most of my friends just get kinda chill.

  • Grace

    April 7th, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    I have a hard time believeing that women who alreadt have these kinds of violent tendencies are going to adhere to a treatment program like this.

    It seems that this would require a great deal of concentration and focus, something that many of them are more than likely lacking in the first place.

    Let’s give them something that they can succed at instead of yet another thing that they could fail at in life.

  • michelle r

    April 9th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    When someone has to use alcohol or another drug like this to release them from their daily stress and anxiety, then there is going to be some trouble. We have to have better ways to deal with this than by trying to drown our sorrows. We have seen enough sad cases to know that rarely is htis going to turn out well. Now granted, for many of these women this has become a pattern of behavior that is sure to be difficult to break. But we have to make that effort, and these women do too. They are more than likely wasting the very best years of their lives on drink and violence, and ruining any relationship that they may have along the way. They deserve better than this, even when they do not know how to achieve the best that life has to offer.

  • therapist1

    April 9th, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    I was one of the therapists on the study. Sallie, most (not all) of the women already self-identified as having problems with anger. The alcohol just increased the intensity. Grace: The women DID adhere. In fact, the drop-out rate was about 7% – instead of the standard 50% for other treatments. The reason women adhered is because the therapy was specifically created for people who have problems with harmful impulsive behaviors. So there are all sorts of therapeutic techniques to help the women adhere. In addition, the mindfulness exercises themselves are created to increase adherence. (Example: The clients take home CDs that lead them through guided mindfulness practices.)
    Michelle: You are right. The women deserve better than this. By the end of the study, most of the women reported feeling like a “better person” and like they were living more according to their values.
    I love this treatment. I have been working with women and men who struggle with substance abuse for years, and this treatment seems to work better than anything out there. (The researchers have done additional trials with women who aren’t violent and also men who have substance issues. They are all going really well.)

  • therapist1

    April 9th, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    Full disclosure: I wasn’t actually a therapist on the study cited above. I was a therapist on the next study, which also included women with anger and substance abuse. The results were consistent with the study cited above – and I also was in the clinic when the study above was being written up and submitted for publication.

  • jen

    April 9th, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    not really aware of the mindfulness that is being discussed in the article can one increase “attentiveness” in the present moment?does that not depend on the personality,whether the person likes the present activity or event and various other things?and even if one were to be “aware” of the present moment how does it help with addictions?any guidance with this is appreciated.

  • Yvonne

    April 10th, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    Knowing that there are women out there who have these problems, and this becomes even greater problems makes me so sad for them yet so thankful for the life that I have been given. It kind of makes you wonder just at what point these poor women get off track, and what could be done to be a little more proactive in situations like these that they are having to face instead of always having to come up with reactive measures. I know that they are necessary, but I guess in a perfect world we could stop most of this before the worse of it even has to start.

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