Shannon Bolithoe : A Writing Life

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Expressive writing as an adjunct treatment for substance abuse

Although women with substance use disorders (SUDs) have high rates of trauma and posttraumatic stress, many addiction programs do not offer trauma-specific treatments. One promising intervention is Pennebaker’s expressive writing, which involves daily, 20-minute writing sessions to facilitate disclosure of stressful experiences. In one study women in residential treatment completed a randomized clinical trial comparing expressive writing with control writing. An analysis was conducted to measure changes in psychological and physical distress. Analyses also examined immediate levels of negative affect following expressive writing. The results of the study showed that expressive writing participants showed greater reductions in posttraumatic symptom severity, depression, and anxiety scores, when compared with control writing participants. Although expressive writing participants showed increased negative affect immediately after each writing session, there were no differences in pre-writing negative affect scores between conditions the following day. By the final writing session, participants were able to write about traumatic/stressful events without having a spike in negative affect. The results of this study suggest that expressive writing may be a brief, safe, low-cost, adjunct to treatment for substance use disorders as a strategy for addressing posttraumatic distress in substance-abusing women

SUBSTANCE ABUSE, 35: 80–88, 2014 Expressive Writing as a Therapeutic Process for Drug-Dependent Women
Sarah Meshberg-Cohen, Dace Svikis and Thomas J. McMahon.