Difficult emotions in treatment for alcohol and drug problems

Addressing difficult emotions, such as sadness, fear, loneliness, and suicidal ideation is hard in the best of times. When people enter treatment for a substance use disorder, a lot is going on, and at times, it may be difficult to get around to also talking about emotions and how they may be related to use of substances. It is widely known that making a successful referral to a mental health program is a challenge in its own right, and that people with substance use disorders often receive less help for their mental health than they need.


The aim of this project is to develop a short-term psychoeducational program to be used in community-based treatment for substance use disorders for young adults (18-30 years).


People who turn up for treatment for a substance use disorder often experience symptoms of internalizing disorders such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, or suicidal ideation. While many have been diagnosed in the past, others have not. Regardless of whether a diagnosis has been made, the internalizing symptoms negatively influence the patients’ quality of life and make it harder to reduce or quit use of substances.

At times, the patients can be referred directly to mental health services, or a program may be available that integrates both the mental health problems and substance use disorders. However, all too often logistic problems, unavailability of treatment, exclusion criteria, or the patient’s reluctance to attend mental health services may serve as barriers for initiating a full course of psychiatric outpatient care.

This study

In this project, we attempt to address this situation by developing a structured manual for a one-on-one psychoeducational approach that aims to help the counsellors in community-based treatment for substance use disorders go through a range of important issues for people with a high level of internalizing problems. To this aim, researchers, counsellors, and psychologists work together to develop a workbook that addresses these issues within six treatment sessions, and the results are presented to a group of clients, who have experienced both mental health services and treatment for substance use disorders.

Following this, the manual will be tested in a pilot and feasibility study with 50 patients.


The project is funded by TrygFonden.


The project is a collaboration between The Center for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University, Sheffield University, and Gladsaxe Municipality.