Background: Over the past three decades, the main question of interest to alcohol treatment researchers has concerned the main effects of a particular behavioral intervention or what works. Increasingly, alcohol treatment researchers are turning their attention to the underlying psychological, social, and even neurophysiologic processes or "active ingredients" that are driving therapeutic change.
Method: The articles contained in this supplement to Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research grew out of invited presentations given at a one-day satellite session immediately preceding the 28th Annual Meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA). The conference was a collaborative effort of the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addiction at the University of New Mexico, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Brown University, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health.
Results: The conference featured a mix of full-length presentations on conceptual and methodological issues, reports of original research findings, and lively discussion among speakers and conference participants. Understanding mechanisms of behavior change will benefit the field by identifying the key aspects of therapy that must be present for maximum effect, irrespective of the specific technique being applied; provide a new way to approach patient-treatment interactions; and lay the groundwork for understanding how change is affected by social and other extratreatment factors.
Conclusions: Although not a new topic to the field, understanding mechanisms of behavior change has begun to capture the interest of an increasing number of alcohol treatment researchers. Understanding behavior change is an exceedingly complex enterprise and innovative thinking and creative research designs will be required to advance the field.