Has research discovered a major flaw with US military alcohol treatment programs?

Alcohol Treatment Program, Health Network News

New study may indicate that confidential treatment works better than the current method.


SUMMARY: Researchers studied the benefits of confidential counseling for alcohol abuse. Many service people are fearful of seeking treatment due to privacy issues.

Researchers have long believed that one of the reasons United States military service members have higher rates of alcohol abuse than civilians is because treatment options in the military are not confidential. Commanders are notified about service people seeking help for alcoholism, possibly jeopardizing future career opportunities. (Stress, youth, and male gender are other risk factors.)

This assumption has now been tested by the University of Washington School of Social Work with a study in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington. The program’s model: Offer confidential intervention that allows soldiers to seek help without notifying their commanders.  Results were encouraging.

How the study worked

Soldiers were recruited for the study by assuring them that the counseling was discreet; no commander notification would be made. Study participants then received a a one-hour telephone counseling session to add another layer of confidentiality. “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.”

Researchers were encouraged by the response to the study: Six months after counseling, researchers found that participants had cut their regular alcohol intake by almost 50%.

The military’s response

Even thought the study results were positive, as of this writing the military has not changed its current substance abuse treatment procedures.

“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.

We believe that fear of stigma for asking for help is one more stressor our men and women in uniform do not need. We hope the U.S. Military will consider further exploration into the benefits of confidential substance abuse programs.

Source: 89.3 KPCC, Southern California Public Radio.

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