The University Record, April 18, 1994

New alcohol program focuses on drinking in moderation

By Mary Jo Frank

DrinkWise, an alcohol education program for people with mild to moderate alcohol problems, is being offered for the first time in Michigan through the U-M.

Designed to help individuals quit or reduce alcohol consumption, the focus is on education rather than treatment, explains Keith D. Bruhnsen, manager of Drinkwise and of the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program.

Bruhnsen and Teresa Herzog Mourad, DrinkWise counselor, recently opened the Medical Center’s DrinkWise office at 527 E. Liberty, Suite 209, which is open 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. weekdays and by appointment.

DrinkWise is an early intervention program for “at risk” drinkers and problem drinkers who are not alcoholics. Based on 20 years of research by senior scientists at the Addiction Research Foundation of Toronto and three years of development and testing at Homewood Health Services of Ontario, DrinkWise is available in Canada and on a limited basis in Syracuse, N.Y. More than 1,000 people have completed the program.

Traditionally we have divided drinkers into two camps, social-responsible and alcoholics, Bruhnsen says. This view fails to address two key health concepts, risk and severity. Consequently, about 20 percent of drinkers have not had an option for assistance other than traditional abstinence programs.

Using a fixed- format curriculum, DrinkWise counselors teach participants a problem-solving model and pacing strategies to use when drinking.

“Society doesn’t educate people about alcohol. When highly educated people come they are surprised what they learn about alcohol,” reports Herzog Mourad.

Brief, effective and inexpensive are how Bruhnsen and Herzog Mourad describe DrinkWise.

A 90-minute confidential assessment is followed by four one-hour private sessions or five two-hour group sessions over a seven-week period and then follow-up at three and nine months.

As evidence of DrinkWise’s effectiveness, Bruhnsen notes that two years after completing the program, about 70 percent of the participants are drinking below the established guidelines of no more than 12 drinks per week; four drinks per day for men, three for women; or are experiencing few or no drinking problems.

Because DrinkWise is an outpatient program, it is relatively inexpensive; most participants recover the cost of the program within a year by reducing their alcohol purchases, Bruhnsen says. Fees are $75 for the interview, $520 for the private sessions, and $320 for the group sessions. Currently the fees are not covered by health maintenance organizations (HMOs), but Bruhnsen hopes HMOs will eventually cover DrinkWise the way they cover some other health education programs.

Other benefits of DrinkWise:

  • Barriers to participate are reduced because there are no labels and the program is voluntary.

  • The program is based on two decades of research and five years of development, testing and refinement.

  • The program is effective for women and men, for people of all ages, and for children of alcoholics.

    DrinkWise’s philosophy is:

  • People can take responsibility for changing their behavior.

  • Excessive drinking is a learned habit that can be overcome.

  • Clients can choose their goal (moderation or abstinence), individual or group format, the level of privacy.

  • Only techniques clients have rated as most useful in dealing with drinking are used.

    The Medical Center has purchased DrinkWise to use as a three-year pilot program, beginning with 12 counties in Southeast Michigan. The U-M’s Alcohol Research Center will study DrinkWise to determine its effectiveness with a health maintenance organization population.

    DrinkWise is available to faculty, staff, students and members of the community. For clients under the age of 21, the goal must be abstinence because of Michigan’s drinking age law. For information, call DrinkWise, 747-WISE.