While early evidence is beginning to suggest an increase of alcohol consumption during the pandemic, University of New Mexico and Mind Research Network researchers are in the midst of testing a combination of different mechanisms to treat alcohol use disorder.

The study, in need of new participants, is part of the UNM Grand Challenges focusing on substance use disorders. Research Associate Professor Jon Houck says researchers are testing motivational interviewing (MI) and non-invasive brain stimulation to treat the illness that continues to be the number one risk factor for premature death for individuals 15 to 50 years old and the third leading preventable cause of death in the country.

“Treatments like motivational interviewing are effective for helping people reduce alcohol use but they can take time to work and they do not work for everyone,” Houck said. “If the study is successful, it could make it easier for people to change their drinking and to make the change stick.”

According to Houck, during a session, the number of statements and reasons people give to change behavior also predicts their drinking.

“People literally talk themselves into changing their drinking, or they can talk themselves into not changing,” he said.

The study is also using a type of non-invasive brain stimulation called transcranial alternating current stimulation (TACS) to enhance a specific brain rhythm during MI therapy sessions. Scientists say the current is so small that most people can’t even feel it. Houck says the study will show whether non-invasive brain stimulation helps people to drink less. It will also help researchers understand exactly which brain processes are affected by this kind of stimulation and how the brain stimulation might work to change drinking.

Interested individuals must be:

  • Healthy adults between 18 – 65 years old.
  • Live in the Albuquerque area.
  • Individuals who drink at risky levels and are interested in making a change in their drinking.

The study doesn’t require a specific drinking goal; individuals can be trying to quit or reduce their habit. People who have metal (including certain medical devices) in their body may be restricted from participating. Participants will receive up to $135 as a reimbursement for their time and effort.

“No one can force change, and even the brain stimulation can only enhance the activity that is already there,” Houck said. “Our goal in the study is to support people who want to change their drinking by using brain stimulation to help enhance their own motivation to change.”

Individuals interested in the study can complete an initial contact and screening form online, call 505-226-1847 or email brainstim@mrn.org.