Importance: Co-occurrence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) is common and associated with psychiatric and functional problems. Understanding whether exposure therapy is tolerable and efficacious for treating PTSD and AUD is critical to ensure that best practice treatments are available.
Objective: To compare the efficacy of integrated (ie, targeting both PTSD and alcohol use) prolonged exposure (I-PE) therapy with present-centered integrated coping skills (I-CS) therapy, a more commonly available treatment, in reducing PTSD symptoms and alcohol use.
Design, setting, and participants: This prospective randomized clinical trial with masked assessments considered 186 veterans seeking Veterans Affairs mental health services. A total of 119 veterans with PTSD and AUD were randomized. Data were collected from February 1, 2013, to May 31, 2017, before treatment, after treatment, and at 3- and 6-month follow-ups. Intention-to-treat analyses were performed.
Interventions: Veterans underwent I-PE (Concurrent Treatment of PTSD and Substance Use Disorder Using Prolonged Exposure) or I-CS (Seeking Safety) therapy.
Main outcomes and measures: A priori planned outcomes were PTSD symptoms (Clinician Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5) and percentage of heavy drinking days (Timeline Follow-Back) before treatment, after treatment, and at 3- and 6-month follow-ups.
Results: A total of 119 veterans (mean [SD] age, 41.6 [12.6] years; 107 [89.9%] male) were randomized. Linear mixture models found that PTSD symptoms decreased in both conditions, with a significantly greater decrease for I-PE treatment compared with I-CS treatment (treatment × time interaction, -2.83; F3,233.1 = 4.92; Cohen d = 0.41; P = .002). The percentage of heavy drinking days improved in both conditions but was not statistically different between I-PE and I-CS treatment (treatment × time interaction, 1.8%; F3,209.9 = 0.18; Cohen d = 0.04; P = .91).
Conclusions and relevance: The I-PE arm had a greater reduction in PTSD symptoms than the I-CS arm and comparable drinking decreases. The study provides evidence that exposure therapy is more efficacious in treating PTSD than a more commonly available integrated treatment without exposure for comorbid PTSD and AUD.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01601067.