A Model Intervention for Soldiers Battling Substance Abuse

Young military men and women who experience multiple deployments, dislocation from family and friends, and combat trauma are at increased risk to abuse alcohol, drugs and prescription medicines. And soldiers are often reluctant to seek help for these problems because it may jeopardize promotions, security clearances and future employment.
Working with these battle-scarred soldiers is a priority at Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis McChord. But military personnel needed a creative and confidential way to reach soldiers experiencing problems but not seeking treatment. The School’s Innovative Programs Research Group (IPRG) met with treatment professionals at the base to explain the group’s unique check-up model. Soon afterwards, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded a five-year grant to IPRG co-director Denise Walker to develop and test an intervention for this at-risk population.
The check-up model is an empathic and non-judgmental intervention designed to reach people who may not identify themselves as needing treatment, but realize that their lives are seriously off track because of problems with drugs or alcohol. In confidential telephone counseling sessions, IPRG counselors guide individuals through a conversation that explores the pros and cons of certain behaviors without assigning negative labels.
Denise Walker spent the first year of the project developing a strong relationship with the command structure. This close collaboration with military leadership — a first for a University of Washington research group — helped to deepen an understanding of the culture and ensure that this targeted intervention translated into measurable and meaningful results for these young warriors.