April is Alcohol Awareness Month. It’s a national public health awareness campaign that calls attention to the risks and consequences of alcohol misuse – modern society’s most widely used mood-altering substance.
Federally sponsored research shows that almost 9 out of 10 adult Americans have used alcoholic beverages and about 7 out of 10 do so regularly. Most who use alcohol do so without negative consequences other than the occasional hangover. However other patterns of drinking can lead to very negative consequences for individual drinkers, their loved ones and the drinker’s employers.
The problem of binge drinking
One alcohol misuse drinking pattern is binge drinking. Binge drinking (defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in a two-hour period for a male, 4 drinks for females) is the most common and most deadly pattern of alcohol abuse. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 6 drinkers binge four times a month. This increases their risk of accidents involving injuries and death, job performance and social difficulties, and in the long run, health and medical complications and the risk of becoming alcohol dependent. Pre-coronavirus pandemic estimates were that as many as 12% of the adult population meets the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, colloquially known as “alcoholism”.
An example of evidence-based intervention
At Espyr, we implemented a practical, evidence-based intervention service to help individuals change destructive drinking (and/or drugging) behavior. We wanted to intervene at times in the drinker’s life that research shows are moments ripe for change. The service is called Recovery Assist and it’s a part of our employee assistance and student assistance programs and a component of another service called TalkNow. Recovery Assist is available 24/7/365.
I recently spoke with a colleague at Espyr, Adrienne Moberg, LCSW, CEAP about Recovery Assist. A 15-year veteran in the mental health field, Ms. Moberg is a U.S. Department of Transportation Certified Substance Abuse Professional. This credential indicates not only expertise in substance abuse treatment, but also in drug-free workplace programming in transportation industries regulated by the DOT to ensure a drug-free workplace and public safety.
Immediate access to specially trained counselors
Ms. Moberg explained that Recovery Assist provides immediate access to behavioral health professionals who are specially trained to assess the nature and extent of the alcohol or drug issue using various objective screening tools. The Recovery Assist counselors also assess for safety, given life-threatening withdrawal may require immediate medical intervention.
Counselors use a technique called motivational interviewing to identify and increase and support the drinker or drug user’s motivation for change. Importantly, the behavioral health professional then transitions into the role of advocate, an advocate to help clients get into the specialized treatment that is effective for substance misuse conditions. “Advocacy is very important because from the consumer’s perspective, there are often multiple social and logistical obstacles to getting into treatment. If there are delays, motivation can evaporate, and the client returns to drinking or drugging. The opportunity for healthy change is lost.”
To explain the issues of treatment, Ms. Moberg added, “Our professional educates the client about treatment and the psychological and personal dynamics around asking for help. Treatment is often not the image portrayed in films and television, and admitting a need for treatment is often viewed as a personal weakness and is stigmatized. We help consumers understand and navigate their employer’s benefits and health care system. Counselors also help the client to find accessible, convenient and economical treatment resources that offer multiple levels of care and individualized treatment plans. Then they expedite the client getting a screening appointment and admission to the appropriate level of care for their unique needs” Ms. Moberg said. She explained that for those with substance misuse conditions, seizing upon a timely opportunity for change is vital. This is because the typical consequence of continued use is progressively increasing use with its accompanying deterioration of health, eventual job loss, risk of incarceration and very often, premature death.
Substance abusers can easily lose their motivation for change
She explained that Espyr’s Recovery Assist service is grounded in the transtheoretical change model. With its beginnings in 1977, more recently this model of human behavior has been used to identify when people are ready to act. For substance misusers, this means the difficult work of embarking on a path of changing ingrained behaviors around their relationship with alcohol or other drugs and changing ways of looking at themselves and their world. “Substance abusers easily lose motivation for change. Really this is understandable because of the enormity of change they face and the reliability- as dysfunctional as it is- of their mood-altering substance of choice as a coping tool. Recovery Assist helps create and capitalize on the readiness for change and assist clients in getting screened and admitted to treatment before their motivation wanes” Ms. Moberg said. “Recovery is a lifelong journey. But it doesn’t start until one takes the first small step. It’s gratifying to be a part of facilitating that first step.”
April is a great time for employers to create more awareness in their workforces about alcohol misuse and how their assistance programs offer avenues to recovery.
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.
2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health
U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Transtheoretical Model of Change
Prochaska, J., Johnson, S. and Lee, P.