BETHESDA – A study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found effective ways to reduce alcohol use among American Indian and rural youth.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, studied high school students in northeastern Oklahoma and found that two previously designed intervention programs showed a decline in alcohol use.
“This important study underscores our commitment to finding evidence-based solutions for alcohol problems in American Indian and other underserved populations,” said Dr. George F. Koob, Director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
“All youth have a higher rate of substance abuse disorders, and we know of the importance of early prevention since there are solid research findings that show delaying early onset of alcohol use prevents heavy alcohol use,” Dr. Kelli Komro, a professor of Epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health wrote in an email.
Researchers found, what Komro said, was a “significant reduction” in students using alcohol or having heavy drinking episodes involved in either of the two intervention programs.
One of the intervention programs, called Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol (CMCA), uses community organizing to raise awareness of underage drinking, enlisting local leaders to take public action, and increasing law enforcement of existing alcohol regulation.
A handbook associated with the program published by Emory University and co-authored by Komro, advises against zero-tolerance policies and fear-based campaigns.
The other strategy, called CONNECT, uses school-based coaches to regularly meet one-on-one with students to discuss their alcohol use and provide motivational advice to reduce alcohol consumption. Students that exhibited risky drinking behavior were referred for special treatment.
Both strategies also involved public information campaigns with posters placed in public places and mailing literature with alcohol reduction advice.
Prior studies had established their effectiveness with smaller population samples.
“Community organizing has been used effectively in multiple other health intervention trials and appeared to be an optimal strategy to engage diverse citizens in these multicultural communities,” Komro explained.
Researchers sampled 1,623 students, with nearly half belonging to the Cherokee Nation. The students were followed from their 9th or 10th grade to 11th or 12th grade years. Students were randomly assigned to one of the two intervention programs.
The surveys were collected every 30 days between January 2013 and May 2015. Preliminary data was collected in 2012 and parents were given an opportunity to decline their child’s participation. The students also had the right to refuse participation at any time.
Komro said the sample was chosen from 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma and did not live on reservation land.
She explained that the Cherokee were chosen for the study due to her colleague’s previous relationships with the tribe.
“The Cherokee people have a long history of engaging in and commitment to science, and they were already engaged in prevention activities in their communities,” Komro wrote.
“They felt this opportunity would provide them with research expertise and expose their communities to cutting edge prevention knowledge and services,” she added.
According to the Department of Education, the Cherokee Nation is the largest federally recognized tribe and is spread across Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgia.
Looking forward with the study’s contribution, Komro explained that effective and scientifically-proven intervention strategies are vital in reducing alcohol use early on to reduce the risk of addiction and injuries.
“We found that community and school support and engagement in prevention is critical to shaping a more healthful environment for teens. Strategies such as ones conducted in this study should be further investigated with a focus on sustainability,” she added.