Push It Back

This is a photo of alcohol on a shelf.

When an alcoholic sees a drink, it’s hard to resist the impulsive response to approach it. Turning that impulse to grab it into an impulse to avoid it may help. A study published in Psychological Science found that a new cognitive-bias modification (CBM) treatment involving approach-avoidance tasks may help alcoholics stay abstinent from drinking.

Alcoholic volunteers were trained to push away pictures of alcoholic drinks. When tested a week later, their approach bias for alcohol had changed to avoidance bias, compared to the control group that showed no such changes. Patients went through abstinence-based cognitive behavior therapy for three months and were assessed on their sobriety a year later. As is typical, many patients had relapsed – but only 46 percent of the CBM trained group, compared with 59 percent of the others. Psychological scientist Reinout Wiers concluded that “adding this intervention to regular treatment helps people stay abstinent.”

It may be too hard to say no to alcohol once it’s already been approached. The trick may be to learn how to push the temptation back.


Wiers, R.W., Eberl, C., Rinck, M., Becker, E.S., & Lindenmeyer, J. (2011). Retraining Automatic Action Tendencies Changes Alcoholic Patients’ Approach Bias for Alcohol and Improves Treatment Outcome. Psychological Science.

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