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A new study conducted by the RAND Corporation and funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) could give states one more reason to add 24/7 Sobriety Programs to their anti-drunk-driving efforts.

Just published in Lancet Psychiatry, the study found that South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety Program was associated with a 4.2% drop in adult mortality rates in that state. In general, the largest decreases in deaths were among women and people over 40.

Looking Beyond Alcohol-Involved Crashes

South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety Program requires people convicted of alcohol-related offenses to stop drinking and submit to either twice-daily breath testing or continuous alcohol monitoring, and violations are addressed with swift, certain, and modest sanctions.

The researchers examined death rates starting five years before the launch of the state’s 24/7 Sobriety Program in 2005 through June 2011. Beyond looking at deaths from alcohol-involved crashes—the cause of death that would most obviously be impacted by an anti-drunk driving program—the study took into account deaths from external injuries, circulatory and digestive disorders, and cancer. In addition to the overall decline in adult deaths, the researchers found a significant drop in deaths due to circulatory disorders—conditions known to be “sensitive to alcohol,” according to the study.

Reduced Alcohol Consumption Key

As with many anti-drunk driving initiatives, past research on 24/7 Sobriety has focused on criminal justice or traffic safety outcomes. And indeed, South Dakota’s program has been shown to decrease drunk driving and alcohol-involved crime. However, the results of this latest study are particularly promising because they suggest that the 24/7 Sobriety concept may have larger public health benefits.

The study authors suggest that reduced alcohol consumption may be the key to the findings. According to the CDC, alcohol use increases the likelihood of health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive issues. Because South Dakota’s program requires abstinence from alcohol, participants—who are often heavy or binge drinkers—may see improvements to their health and lower mortality rates when they cut out alcohol.

The “Spillover” Effect

But past and current 24/7 Sobriety participants only made up about 3% of the state’s population as of 2011 and cannot fully explain the drops in deaths. The researchers speculate that a “potential factor that also needs further research could be the contribution of spillover effects” on people outside the program. For example, the high-profile nature of the program and its consequences may deter the general public not just from drinking and driving, but from drinking altogether. And the drops in circulatory deaths among women might be explained by “reduced stress due to a partner’s cessation of heavy drinking.”

The researchers note that additional investigation needs to be done to understand the potential links between general mortality rates and the 24/7 Sobriety concept. However, the results of the study are likely to give states yet another reason to consider adding 24/7 Sobriety programs to their arsenal of tools to address drunk driving and alcohol-related crime.

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.

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