A recent study suggests that a long-term reduction in risky drinking among Army National Guard members could enhance their health and combat readiness.
According to recent research from a University of Michigan team published in the journal Addiction, the number of days each month that Guard members reported having engaged in binge drinking decreased by as much as half.
The decline occurred over the course of a year among Guard members who participated in a number of quick online education sessions intended for military personnel, as well as among those who participated in an initial online education session followed by encouraging phone calls with veteran peers trained to discuss alcohol use every few months.
The study demonstrated that both strategies resulted in lower scores on a scale that evaluates risky drinking behaviors in addition to less binge drinking. On a score that evaluates the effects of alcohol on people’s lives, those who received the peer phone calls over the course of a year saw a decrease. By the end of the year, none of the measures showed a decline for those who received no support other than a pamphlet after being assigned at random.
“This is the first study of its kind to demonstrate the efficacy of a relatively low-cost e-health intervention for hazardous alcohol use in a component of our nation’s Army reserves,”Frederic Blow, Ph.D., lead author of the study .
“This is the first study of its kind to demonstrate the efficacy of a relatively low-cost e-health intervention for hazardous alcohol use in a component of our country’s Army reserves,” claims Frederic Blow, Ph.D., director of the University of Michigan Addiction Center and lead author of the research. “With risky drinking endangering the health and readiness of those who serve, we hope that this strategy will prove helpful in other National Guard units and elsewhere.”.
Focusing on those who are most at risk.
The Mission Strong randomized controlled trial was inspired by earlier research that demonstrated the effectiveness of peer support and individualized education in lowering risky drinking among veterans receiving care at Veterans Affairs medical facilities.
A prior survey conducted by the University of Michigan team revealed that almost a third of Michigan Army National Guard members who had deployed as part of their duty displayed symptoms of risky drinking. According to other studies, National Guard members who have deployed are more likely to engage in risky drinking than active-duty personnel from other branches of the military.
During one of their monthly drill weekends, members of 41 Michigan Guard units participated in the Mission Strong study by completing surveys about their alcohol use. 832 (or 30 percent) of the 2,746 people who were screened received results that qualified as hazardous alcohol use.
According to senior author Lara Coughlin, Ph., “We are incredibly appreciative of the cooperation and ongoing engagement by the Michigan Army National Guard, which is working to improve the health and readiness of its members and made it possible for us to do a study that could benefit many other Guard units nationwide.”. D., a University of Michigan Addiction Center employee who is also a psychologist who specializes in addiction and conducts research on the subject.
The average age of the 739 Guard members who consented to being randomly assigned to one of the three groups was 28; 16% of them were female. While the majority of people were white and not of Hispanic origin, 10% of people were black, and 16% were Hispanic. Even though it is against National Guard policy and was not generally legal in Michigan at the time of the study, just over 10% of the participants used cannabis.
10 percent of people who responded to mental health surveys said they had considered suicide, 19 percent reported having moderate to severe depression, and only about 5 percent had a score high enough to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The study concentrated on National Guard members due to the special nature of their service as citizen soldiers, who live in the neighborhood, spend the majority of their time working or studying, but drill frequently and are prepared to be called up for service to the state or nation.
84 percent of the participants in the study were employed full-time or part-time, and 49 percent had ever been deployed while serving in the Guard. The majority of the remaining soldiers held higher enlisted ranks, and 6% were officers, with just over half having a private or corporal as their lowest enlisted rank.
After a year, 550 of them had finished all three follow-up surveys, including 142 who had participated in three peer phone calls, 120 who had finished three web-based follow-up sessions, and the remaining individuals who had only received the information pamphlet at the drill weekend and finished the three follow-up surveys. To thank them for their time, each participant received a small sum of money.
Men and women both referred to binge drinking as having six or more drinks in a single sitting. The SIP survey was used to gauge the effects of their drinking on their relationships, finances, risk-taking, and accidents, as well as their overall level of hazardous alcohol use.
The study’s findings
Participants admitted to binge drinking four to five days a month at the beginning of the study. By the time the study was over, the average number of days for those in the peer-support group had decreased from 5 to 2, and the average number of days for those only receiving online education had increased from 4 to 2 and a half. By the end of the research period, those in the third group were still bingeing four days per month.
On the AUDIT scale of risky drinking, those who received peer calls saw a 3 to 6-point reduction over the course of a year on average, while those who received online-only contacts saw a drop of nearly 3-points. Both of these reductions were deemed to be significantly larger than the 2-point drop among those who only received a pamphlet and follow-up surveys. By the end of the study, the average score for the two groups that received the customized online education had fallen below the hazardous threshold, while the group that received no online education was still drinking dangerously. At the beginning of the study, the average score for all three groups was above 9, indicating hazardous drinking.
Only those who received peer calls experienced a noticeable change from the beginning to the end of the study on the SIP scale, which measures how drinking has affected a person’s life.
The authors of the study are Maureen Walton, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School, and Patrick Coughlin, an assistant professor of psychiatry. D. Mark Ilgen, Ph.D., and Kristen Barry, Ph.D., of the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System; Lynn Massey of the University of Michigan Injury Prevention Center; statistician Rosalinda Ignacio of the University of Michigan School of Public Health; and Richard McCormick, Ph.D., a student at Case Western Reserve University.
More information: Frederic C. Blow et al, Peer‐ and web‐based interventions for risky drinking among US National Guard members: Mission Strong randomized controlled trial, Addiction (2023). DOI: 10.1111/add.16172
Details about the Mission Strong study are available via its listing on Clinicaltrials.gov (NCT02181283)