The Impact of Alcohol Use Severity on Anxiety Treatment Outcomes in a Large Effectiveness Trial in Primary Care

Published in: Journal of Anxiety Disorders, v. 30, Mar. 2015, p. 88-93

Posted on RAND.org on January 23, 2015

by Kate B. Wolitzky-Taylor, Lily A. Brown, Peter Roy-Byrne, Cathy D. Sherbourne, Murray Stein, Greer Sullivan, Alexander Bystritsky, Michelle G. Craske

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OBJECTIVE: The presence of anxiety disorders is associated with poorer alcohol use disorder treatment outcomes, but little is known about the impact of alcohol use problems on anxiety disorder treatment outcomes despite their high comorbidity. The current study examined the impact of alcohol use symptom severity on anxiety disorder treatment outcomes in a multi-site primary care effectiveness study of anxiety disorder treatment. METHOD: Data came from the Coordinated Anxiety Learning and Management (CALM) effectiveness trial. Participants (N = 1004) were randomized to an evidence-based anxiety intervention (including cognitive behavioral therapy and medications) or usual care in primary care. Participants completed measures of alcohol use, anxiety, and depression a baseline, 6-mo, 12-mo, and 18-mo follow-up periods. Patients with alcohol dependence were excluded. RESULTS: There were no significant moderating (Treatment Group x Alcohol Use Severity) interactions. The majority of analyses revealed no predictive effects of alcohol use severity on outcome; however, alcohol problems at baseline were associated with somewhat higher anxiety and depression symptoms at the 18-mo follow-up. CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that patients with alcohol problems in primary care can be effectively treated for anxiety disorders. Baseline alcohol problems were associated with some poorer long-term outcomes, but this was evident across CALM and usual care. These findings provide preliminary evidence that there may be no need to postpone treatment of anxiety disorders until alcohol problems are addressed, at least among those who have mild to moderate alcohol problems. Replication with more severe alcohol use disorders is needed.

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