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What works for whom and why: A narrative systematic review of interventions for reducing post-traumatic stress disorder and problematic substance use among women with experiences of interpersonal violence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-103
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Early online date24 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


King's Authors


Background and aims
Women with histories of interpersonal violence (IPV) experience high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), problematic substance use, and repeat victimization. Previous systematic reviews considering the effectiveness of integrated trauma-specific treatments to address PTSD and substance use have lacked sub-group analysis by gender or trauma type. Furthermore, mindfulness-based interventions for treating both issues together are under-researched. It is unclear what treatment components and contextual factors impacting implementation work best for women with IPV experiences. This narrative review examines a range of quantitative and qualitative data to explore: for which groups of women do integrated interventions work (subgroups)? How (mechanisms of action), and/or under what contexts (factors external to the intervention)?

A two-staged search strategy identified eligible studies. This process identified 20 controlled trials reporting on the effectiveness of psychological or mindfulness-based interventions for PTSD and substance use and 39 relevant supplementary information related to the trials. Narrative synthesis using thematic analysis was conducted on manuscripts identified in both stages.

Safe social support and ongoing risks of violence were identified as contextual factors which may affect treatment outcomes, requiring attention by researchers and treatment providers. Whilst there was some evidence that reduced PTSD correlates with substance use decrease, there may be more than one pathway to substance use reduction among women with PTSD, requiring a focus on emotional regulation. Other ‘active mechanisms’ included different modalities of coping skills and support to rebuild connection with self and others. Lack of supplementary studies for trials involving past-focused treatment precluded detailed discussion of these models.

Integrated PTSD and substance use treatment which teaches extensive coping skills to promote external safety, symptom stabilisation, and emotional regulation, combined with access to safe social support and external advocacy, may be particularly useful for women with more severe PTSD, or for those experiencing ongoing victimization for whom past-focused treatments are contraindicated. Long-term support and organisational trauma-informed practice in substance use treatment services should also be promoted.

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