Preventing Alcohol Misuse – Congressional Briefing

On Thursday, March 21, the Friends of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), of which FABBS is an active member, hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill titled “Preventing Alcohol Misuse: Research to Improve and Save Lives.” The NIAAA mission is to conduct wide-ranging research on alcohol use and disseminate the findings to health professionals and policymakers.

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) provided introductory remarks thanking the Friends for their work on addiction issues. As a member of the Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus, the Congressman underscored that increasing access to mental health resources is integral to treating alcohol misuse.

Director of NIAAA, Dr. George Koob, gave an overview of the Institutes’ priorities. Dr. Koob explained the vital role of NIAAA in communicating the harmful effects of alcohol on a societal and individual level. Dr. Koob cited consequences of alcohol misuse:

  • 5 million emergency room visits each year
  • 178,000 annual deaths each year
  • Most abused substance by youth and young adults, recognizing that alcohol misuse among underage drinkers has decreased in recent years

Speakers presented three research based case studies:
Dr. MJ Paschall, a researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, spoke about environmental approaches to addressing alcohol misuse problems. Environmental interventions seek to change the drinking culture at the community level, such as regulatory policies (e.g. the legal drinking age, where/when alcohol can be sold, etc.) and policy enforcement. Dr. Paschall’s research looked at how enforcing such policies affects the drinking habits of college students and young adults. Through a randomized trial in 24 cities, researchers examined localities with high-visibility alcohol enforcement activities, for example, routine DUI checkpoints. Cities with checkpoints experienced a 15 percent reduction in DUI accidents among 15-30 year olds which persisted for five years after the experiment. Dr. Paschall concluded that environmental strategies to prevent alcohol misuse can reach a broad audience and have a significant societal impact if enforcement is highly visible.

In the next presentation, Dr. Melvin Livingston, of Emory University, analyzed a multi-level intervention targeting adolescent alcohol misuse in the Cherokee Nation. Using environmental and individual methods, NIAAA-funded scientists and the Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Agency significantly curbed adolescent alcohol misuse. Researchers created a program called CONNECT which used screening and motivational interviews from trained coaches to persuade youth to rethink their drinking habits. The environmental intervention included:

  • Reducing alcohol sales to youth
  • Reducing social sources of alcohol
  • Community-driven campaigns through the media

CONNECT led to a 22 percent reduction in 30-day alcohol use and a 19 percent reduction in heavy episodic use. The environmental approach was also significant as it led to a 25 percent reduction in 30-day use and a 24 percent decrease in heavy episodic use. Dr. Livingston acknowledged the important work of his Cherokee Nation collaborators.

Dr. Melissa A. Lewis, of the University of North Texas, concluded the event with her presentation about an individual-level intervention called “Enhancing Quality in Protective Strategies (EQUIP). Project EQUIP consisted of a web-based survey that offered a point-in-time snapshot of recent behavior prompting participants to think critically about their drinking habits. The objective was to help researchers understand the motivations behind the use (or non-use) of “protective behavioral strategies” among routine drinkers. Based on respondent preferences, researchers sent out automated text messages which included content that might encourage safe drinking habits such as:

  • Ask for a designated driver
  • Limit the number of drinks in a night

Respondents could rate the helpfulness of such messages in real time. A goal of this NIH- funded intervention was to help improve research and interventions relating to protective behavioral strategies.

friends of niaaa, NIH