Researchers say that fear of job reprisals prevents service people from getting the help they need.
SUMMARY: Lack of confidentiality in the military can prevent service people from seeking help. Researchers studied benefits of discreet counseling for alcohol abuse.
United States military service members have higher rates of alcohol abuse than civilians for many reasons. This phenomenon can be partly explained because most service members are young men who are under a great deal of stress. But experts point to another reason for the high substance abuse rates: Service members often cannot get help for substance abuse without their commanding officers finding out.
A recent study by the University of Washington School of Social Work is exploring a different model: Offering a discreet intervention that allows soldiers to seek help without their commanders being notified.
Overview of the study
The researchers recruited participants at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord by hanging posters at the base that assured service people that they could receive counseling without their commanders being told of the treatment.
The soldiers were assessed and then counseled in an hour-long phone session.
“They don’t even have to walk into a building that would ordinarily say ‘Army substance abuse program,'” said study director Denise Walker. “They just need to pick up the phone.”
The response to the program was encouraging. Researchers checked in with the participants six months later, and found that study volunteers had cut their weekly alcohol intake by almost half.
Although the Department of Defense funded the study, the military has thus far not changed the current non-confidential treatment procedures for substance abuse.
“The Army is looking at all the options to determine if [regulatory changes] are possible, and if so, what the best way is to go about that,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Ivany, director of psychological health of the U.S. Army.
FROM THE HHN EDITORS:
We encourage the Army and other branches of the U.S. Military to look deeper into the value of confidential substance abuse programs to remove the fear and stigma service people may feel about seeking help.
For more information, here is a call to action.
Source: 89.3 KPCC, Southern California Public Radio