Campus News - January 14, 2002

Alcohol abuse focus of new treatment for homeless women

By Steve Carr

UNM Department of Psychology Professor Jane Ellen Smith has received a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to help treat substance abusing homeless women with a unique approach.
The treatment program will also focus on poor body image/eating disorders as well as chronic sexual victimization, but the main emphasis will be on the alcohol aspect of substance abuse.

“The basic premise is to make a sober life-style enjoyable and rewarding enough so that it can compete with a drinking life-style,” said Smith. “This may involve having supportive friends and family again, but it also entails a rewarding job and pleasurable but healthy social activities.”

The program will recruit a large number of women, nearly 100, who will be randomly assigned to one of three conditions including: case management (CM), which is a standard treatment method administered by a social worker; community reinforcement approach (CRA), which is a behavioral intervention method that has proven efficacious for treating alcoholics; and an enhanced CRA program called CREATE or community reinforcement, employment and training enhancement. This method uses the CRA approach along with incentive-based job training.

The program will be conducted utilizing these treatments and modified to take women’s issues into consideration. Women and families make up approximately 30 percent of the homeless population and are viewed as the fastest rising subgroup. Women typically enter and remain in alcohol programs at much lower rates than men. One of the causes is because some women will only seek treatment if women’s issues are addressed.

Participants will come into the program and will be housed for the initial three months. Intense treatments will occur several times a week and in some instances, every day. Two problems Smith hopes to undertake successfully include relapses and a high rate of post-treatment unemployment.

“We will have built-in aftercare treatment available for three to four months after they’ve completed their treatment, which is considered the high-risk period for a relapse,” Smith said. “The second problem is a high rate of unemployment. Homeless women have a particularly difficult time finding employment because of their limited job experience and education. There are actually lots of job training programs available, but they typically don’t take advantage of them.”

“We have added a computer training module as part of the CREATE program, but since motivation to learn new job skills is a problem, the training program uses financial incentives. We will provide them with vouchers for attendance at job training sessions, as well as for learning the computer skills. The vouchers can be exchanged for goods at various department stores. It is designed to bolster job training attendance and to make the work environment a reinforcing community.”

The program, which will draw recruits from the various shelters in Albuquerque, is slated to get underway this month. Smith, the principal investigator (PI), will also work with colleagues Robert Meyers, clinical director and co-PI, Harold Delaney, methodologist, Marcello Maviglia, physician and Leslie Amrhein, administrative coordinator.

“The entire project will take place at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center in downtown Albuquerque,” said Smith. “This collaboration was made possible primarily through the support of individuals at St. Martin’s including Chris Fogel, executive director, and Lee Pattison, development director.”

Smith says they are looking for donations to help furnish the apartments where the participants will be housed.

Call 277-2650 for more information about donations or the program.

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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