Using TFA Systems (tm) to assess behavior patterns of alcoholics who achieve sobriety

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of the study was to compare behavior patterns of alcoholics before and after they stopped drinking. Specifically, changes in the interactions of thinking, feeling, and acting behavior components of two groups of recovering, non-relapsed, alcoholics with 6 months or less and a third group with 5 or more years of sobriety were analyzed.

The study used TFA Systems™, an integrated and multidisciplinary theoretical model, to discern factors related to stopping drinking and maintaining sobriety. Research methodology included purposeful sampling from AA, residential, and outpatient substance abuse centers. The Hutchins' Behavior Inventory (HBI) was used to assess behavior in high risk drinking situations for: (a) before starting to drink behavior [Group 1]; (b) 6 months or less of short-term sobriety behavior [Group 2]; and (c) 5 years or more sobriety behavior [Group 3]. Results were analyzed using quantitative and qualitative methods. Responses from a structured interview were analyzed using methods from the TFA/HBI Analytic Guide and the askSam data management system.

The short-term recovery groups differed in demographic factors from the group with 5 or more years of sobriety. Past drinking behavior was characterized with a Feeling-Acting-Thinking (F-A-T) sequential orientation. Those with six months or less sobriety had a Feeling-Thinking-Acting (F-T-A) orientation. People with five or more years of sobriety had a Thinking-Feeling-Acting (T-F-A) orientation with integrated and nearly balanced TFA triads. Qualitative measures indicated that with longer sobriety anticipatory thoughts about drinking changed to thoughts of positive alternatives and positive self-focus.

Results suggested that the first change to begin in recovery is to shift negative action toward positive thinking behavior. The next change appeared to occur in learning to integrate feelings and actions. Maintenance tasks appeared to focus on integrating and balancing all behavior components. How the TFA model met the need for a client adaptable and integrated model with assessment methods across phases of recovery was discussed.