Schroder and team research whether supportive educational modules help stabilize recently recovered problem drinkers

Self-guided attempts to resolve drinking problems are common, but little is known about the processes by which supportive interventions of lower intensity might promote resolution. Kerstin E. E. Schroder, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior—along with Professor and Chair Jalie S. Tucker, PhD, and Associate Professor Cathy A. Simpson, PhD—examined how brief supportive educational modules delivered as part of an interactive voice response self-monitoring (IVR SM) system helped stabilize self-initiated recovery (i.e., abstinence or return to low-risk drinking levels) among otherwise untreated former problem drinkers. The IVR SM consisted of a computer-automated telephone-based survey designed to accept phone calls from study participants and to elicit and record self-reports of drinking, urges to drink, and drug use on a daily basis.

In the study, recently recovered problem drinkers assigned to the intervention group of a randomized controlled trial were offered IVR access for 24 weeks to report daily about their alcohol consumption and to hear the educational modules designed to stabilize participants’ recovery from problem drinking. The pre-recorded educational modules were offered once per week at the conclusion of the daily self-report and were programmed to appear in a pre-determined sequence that was modeled after evidence-based cognitive-behavioral self-change materials. Data from the 70 active IVR callers were used to evaluate whether module retrieval reduced alcohol consumption and the likelihood of high-risk drinking on the subsequent day. Further, the data analyses determined whether IVR module retrieval helped reduce the effects on subsequent drinking of established risk factors for relapse (including urges to drink, other drug use, and weekends). The analyses controlled for initial resolution status (i.e., abstinence or low-risk drinking).

Results showed that weekends as well as self-reported urges and drug use were associated with increased drinking reports on the next IVR call. In contrast, retrieving an educational module was associated with decreases in next-call drinking and fewer reports of high-risk drinking episodes. Module retrieval, however, did not reduce or buffer the effects of urges on drinking. These findings were similar across initially abstinent and low-risk drinkers.

The researchers concluded that IVR-delivered supportive educational modules may help stabilize initial problem-drinking resolutions, but mechanisms of change and the optimization of IVR-based intervention strategies deserve more research. Self-change is the dominant pathway to recovery from problem drinking behavior, and IVR-based interventions can extend the reach of supportive services to the majority of problem drinkers who attempt to quit on their own.  

To read the abstract of “Telephone-based Self-change Modules Help Stabilize Early Natural Recovery in Problem Drinkers,” published this month in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, click here.