Why AUD Treatment Programs Must Expand Beyond Abstinence-Only Outcomes

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Alcohol use disorder is an increasing problem that’s affecting the workplace and employers. Employees who struggle with alcohol misuse can end up less productive for a company and affect their fellow employees. The issue can also lead to increased healthcare costs for both the employee and the employer. If left untreated and unaddressed, AUD can disrupt retention, recruitment, and overall employee satisfaction rates.

HR departments are already struggling to find the right kind of behavioral and mental health treatments, a benefit employees are looking for as part of a healthy work environment. Yet a recent study shows that 41% of workers say their company doesn’t offer any therapy, counseling, or related benefits. Even when they do offer helpful programs, employers and HR departments may find it difficult to choose the one that will serve employees best, especially for issues like AUD.

Employers may not even know what employees are looking for in their AUD treatment solution. As a result, companies end up with ineffective programs that result in minimal success, exacerbating the costs of treatment for both the employer and the employees.

When considering an effective AUD program to serve employees, a modern approach is needed in order to have the best outcomes. It’s best to understand what employees are looking for and what they’re trying to get out of an AUD treatment program.

AUD is not like other substance abuse and addiction programs

The first step towards evaluating an effective program is to understand that AUD treatment methods aren’t like other substance abuse or broad-based addiction programs. People who struggle with AUD vastly prefer treatment that’s specific and focused solely on AUD.

AUD treatment that’s part of a substance abuse problem or an overall addiction program will result in lower adoption and engagement. In a recent Ria Health survey, 68% of patients found it important to have a professional with AUD experience as opposed to 23% who considered broader experience to be important.

The stigma of SUD and general addiction programs are significant deterrents for employees struggling with AUD. They largely see themselves as having a different issue than those struggling with non-alcohol addictions. They may not also want to stop drinking altogether, which is often the goal for SUD and addiction programs. As a result, they may skip out on a treatment program if it’s not focused enough.

AUD success starts with harm reduction

The concept of harm reduction as it applies to AUD treatment programs varies depending on the treatment program. The definition of harm reduction is often what drives outcomes and program success when considering the different treatment options.

When considering harm reduction, the biggest differences in viewpoints are whether abstinence should be the only option, or whether reducing drinking can also be a potential goal that AUD programs can aim for. Our perspective is straightforward.

Harm reduction seeks to reduce the potential suffering caused by alcohol misuse. Reducing harm can include reducing drinking, which can result in abstinence. However, just because an individual doesn’t abstain from drinking alcohol, it doesn’t mean they aren’t successful at managing their relationship with it.

People who struggle with AUD may not necessarily want to eliminate their drinking altogether. Our research found that 51% of respondents preferred a treatment that resulted in lower alcohol consumption over abstinence. Alcohol use treatment programs that are “abstinence-only” run a real risk of significantly reducing program adoption. A National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA)  found that over 51% of respondents who needed treatment did not seek treatment because they weren’t ready to stop drinking alcohol. If a treatment program offers abstinence-only programs, they may cut their member engagement by half.

Unlike other substances, alcohol is a socially acceptable activity, which is part of the reason people may not necessarily want to abstain. When considering harm reduction, we’re looking to reduce the potential harms associated with alcohol misuse, which include risks to personal health, social wellness, financial stability, and employment. An FDA report states that “reducing drinking from very high levels to more moderate levels can reduce long-term mortality and overall disease burden.”

When considering program outcomes and success, we agree with the NIAAA’s definition of recovery which defines a successful outcome as a long-term reduction in alcohol consumption. 

Employers should look for an AUD treatment that considers what employees want

Employers should be looking for AUD treatment programs designed for the best possible outcomes, while meeting employees where they are.

What does this mean? A successful program is one that offers options beyond abstinence, is focused specifically on AUD, is accessible, and works with clients to set goals tailored to them. We’ve found that by elevating program adoption and engagement with accessible, personalized treatment can result in maximizing your program’s positive outcomes reducing the risk that the benefit program goes unused. Most importantly, the chances that employees find success in the program will increase, resulting in lower healthcare costs, higher employee satisfaction, and a better work environment.

Ria Health Is a focused and effective AUD treatment program.

In order to effectively empower employees and give them the support they need, employers need to find the right AUD treatment program. We believe that program is Ria Health, and we have some exciting news to share.

We’ve recently announced that we have raised a Series A funding round of $18M, led by SV Health Investors. This will allow us to expand our foothold and increase overall access to our AUD treatment program. We’ll be using the funds to expand care delivery and meet the demand from health plans, multi-state employers, Taft Hartley plans, and healthcare providers.

As a telehealth program, we provide an evidence-based treatment that’s accessible to employees and uses both counseling and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to reduce cravings and overall alcohol consumption. Our approach helps employees to rethink their relationship with alcohol and set the goals they want, whether it’s abstinence or decreased consumption. Our support team of counselors, doctors, and experts are available 24/7 online so employees can find support in the comfort and privacy of their own home.

The results speak for themselves. In just 30 days, 70% of Ria Health members reduce their WHO risk drinking level and over 80% reduce their WHO risk drinking level significantly over a 12-month period. Lowering these levels is associated with improved mental health, quality of life, and lower healthcare costs.

If you’d like to learn more about Ria Health, contact us at tiffiny.marinelli@riahealth.com or check out our For Employers page here.

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