Expressive writing as a therapeutic process for drug-dependent women

Sarah Meshberg-Cohen, Dace Svikis, Thomas J. McMahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: 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. Methods: Women (N = 149) in residential treatment completed a randomized clinical trial comparing expressive writing with control writing. Repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to document change in psychological and physical distress from baseline to 2-week and 1-month follow-ups. Analyses also examined immediate levels of negative affect following expressive writing. Results: Expressive writing participants showed greater reductions in posttraumatic symptom severity, depression, and anxiety scores, when compared with control writing participants at the 2-week follow-up. No group differences were found at the 1-month follow-up. Safety data were encouraging: 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. Conclusions: Results suggest that expressive writing may be a brief, safe, low-cost, adjunct to SUD treatment that warrants further study as a strategy for addressing posttraumatic distress in substance-abusing women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-88
Number of pages9
JournalSubstance Abuse
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Expressive writing
  • substance abuse
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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