NIAAA's Alcohol Treatment Navigator: Pointing the way to evidence-based care

November 20, 2017

Lori Ducharme, Ph.D.
Program Director for Health Services Research
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates that about 15 million American adults met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder in 2016, while only about 10% received treatment from a specialty facility. And many of those who access treatment still don’t get care that meets their needs, or includes evidence-based behavioral therapies or medications. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently released a new online resource called the Alcohol Treatment Navigator. It’s designed to be a comprehensive, easy-to-use tool to help individuals and their loved ones navigate the often-complex process of searching for, and choosing, a professional treatment provider. By explaining what you need to know, and what you need to do to find quality treatment, the Navigator aims to help empower people to make more informed decisions. This is especially important because the search for help often comes at a time when families are most stressed.

The Navigator includes:

  • An overview of alcohol use disorder
  • A description of different kinds of professionally-led treatment options
  • Step-by-step instructions for searching several existing online directories of treatment providers – including the ABAM and ABPN physician directories, the SAMHSA program database, and the Psychology Today directory of licensed therapists
  • Five signs of quality to look for
  • Ten questions to ask a provider – and answers to listen for, and
  • A downloadable Toolkit to help organize and focus the search process

The NIAAA Navigator emphasizes that, when it comes to finding treatment, different people need different options. While people commonly think treatment involves either a mutual help group or long term residential rehab, the Navigator highlights a variety of outpatient, live-at-home treatment options, such as group counseling, one-on-one therapy sessions, and physician office-based treatment. Because more than half of adults with AUD are employed full-time, these outpatient options may be especially attractive, but they remain unfamiliar to many people.

While the Navigator links out to existing provider directories, it recognizes that people may get treatment recommendations from a variety of sources. Insurance plans, employee assistance programs, Google, and friends and relatives can all suggest treatment providers. No matter the source, the Navigator emphasizes the importance of calling and asking questions first, to assess whether the provider offers good quality care, and to be sure they are a good fit for the individual’s specific circumstances. Toward that end, it provides tips such as what credentials to look for, examples of evidence-based therapies, and the importance of a customized, responsive treatment

The Alcohol Treatment Navigator was developed by NIAAA staff, drawing on years of health services and clinical treatment outcomes research, and with extensive input from scientists, treatment providers, and its target audience – families who need help finding alcohol treatment for an adult loved one. Early feedback has been extremely positive. The Navigator serves as a companion resource to NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking website, which helps people assess their drinking patterns and associated risks.

In addition to promoting the Navigator to the general public, NIAAA has also received interest from physician groups, therapist organizations, and other health professionals, who frequently encounter patients with alcohol problems, but do not know where to refer them for help. It’s hoped that the Navigator can help address the persistent referral to treatment gap, and that it may be a useful tool to help primary care physicians and other non-addiction-specialists refer patients to evidence-based alcohol treatment services.

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About our guest blogger:

Lori Ducharme is a Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. She manages the institute’s portfolio of treatment services research, including studies on screening and brief intervention, service utilization, patient engagement, and implementation of evidence-based practices. She was the team lead on the development of the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator.

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