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Empowering Change: An Interview with Arryn Guy on Innovative Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Use

In our interview, researcher Arryn Guy shares innovative strategies to address alcohol use. Focusing on discrimination and alcohol problems among HIV-positive men, Arryn’s work highlights the power of motivational interviewing as an intervention. Join us to explore their research, challenges faced, and inspiring efforts to make a difference. Let’s empower change and reduce alcohol use together.

Interview Transcript

Acaudio: Hi Arryn, thank you for being with us today. Can you tell us a bit on how you started your journey into the field of behavioral and social sciences?

Arryn: Yeah, sure. So, actually, you know, before I went into college I thought that I wanted to have a professional career in music. I was very involved in my high school show choir but when I was thinking about what I wanted to go to college for, you know, I didn’t think that a career in music would be the most lucrative of careers. So, I was thinking about what was it that I like about music and it really was this connection with other people and the way in which music could produce emotion in people and have that kind of experience. And so, that’s how I got interested in psychology and I knew when I went to undergrad for psychology that I wanted to go to grad school right away. And originally I thought that I was going to be pursuing a career to become a psychologist and do practice, clinical practice full-time. But while I was in graduate school, I really realised that, “hey, I’m actually pretty good at this statistics thing and there’s a lot of unsolved issues in clinical practice that research can really help improve the clinical landscape.” So, that’s how I got interested in this work.

Acaudio: So, why did you specifically choose this aspect of psychology (behavioral and social sciences) and not other parts of psychology?

Arryn: Yeah so, when I was thinking about, especially when I was applying to graduate school programmes, it’s important to think about what kind of research do I want to be doing, who do I want to work with because that can really define the area of psychology you specialise in and you know, it’s what you’ll be doing for the next five or six years and then potentially your entire career after that. And, I was really interested in human sexuality in my undergraduate studies and also LGBTQ issues, and I was also interested in chronic illness and the interplay between mental health and chronic illness and how those two affect one another, and how the medical system sort of helps, or sometimes fails folks who, you know, are having mental health issues that interplay with chronic illness. And so, I thought that HIV research and HIV treatment adherence research were the perfect way to integrate my interest in both chronic illness and coping with stigma, as well as LGBTQ health and human sexuality.

Acaudio: So now that we have gotten into your research area, I want to talk about one of your papers. It is on Discrimination and Alcohol Problems Among Heavy-Drinking HIV Positive Men Who Have Sex With Men: The Buffering Effect of A Brief Motivational Intervention to Reduce Alcohol Use. That sounds very interesting. Can you tell us about the purpose of this research work and basically, like, give an overview about it?

Arryn: Yeah, sure. So, you know the question of what treatment, for who, at what time and at what frequency, is a question that is really a big driver of all clinical interventions research and especially in my area, linking psychology to behavioral health outcomes. And, HIV stigma is a big driver of HIV disparities worldwide because of HIV stigma, people are less likely to get tested. For HIV people also, who are living with HIV may be less likely to take their medication consistently depending on where they are, they may feel that they need to have more privacy to take their medication. HIV stigma can also influence things like depression and anxiety or alcohol use or other substance use which can also influence adherence to antiretroviral treatment. And one of the most important ways that we can reduce HIV transmission is through people living with HIV taking their medications properly, because, if you are having an undetectable viral load, you cannot transmit the virus to others. So, it’s important for us to understand how, in psychological treatment, we can improve folks’ mental health and their treatment adherence. And so, this study was looking at how motivational interviewing, which is a commonly used treatment in alcohol use, can help individuals living with HIV who are drinking at, kind of riskier level, that may be negative to their health. So, this was a randomised controlled trial testing motivational interviewing to reduce alcohol use among gay and bisexual or other men who have sex with men, who are living with HIV and we compared that with just, sort of treatment-as-usual (TAU), which is just continuing to attend treatment at your HIV clinic. And in this particular paper, we were doing a secondary analysis to see, “did our motivational interviewing, did that work specifically better for folks who were experiencing discrimination?” So, we kind of want to know how motivational interviewing really helps those who are experiencing more HIV stigma or other types of discrimination like racism, or homophobia.

Acaudio: So, from my understanding, it seems that HIV stigma really does pose a lot of challenges in curing HIV worldwide. Were there any other challenges or obstacles that you’ve faced while conducting the research?

Arryn: That’s a really good question and one, I think one of the obstacles that comes up just anytime in doing research is understanding where research can really make an impact in the real world. People often cite that it takes 17 years for research to go from being, in sort of the ivory tower or in the early preclinical stages to actually getting out to the world to making a difference. And so, I’m often thinking about it in my work, “how can my research that I’m doing now, how can I disseminate that more widely to the world and to the community more quickly to actually make a difference on a quicker timeline than maybe that 17 years gap?” So, I’m really happy to be asked to do something like this, where I hope that research can be disseminated more quickly and folks can learn more about what we’re doing and we can actually affect change in the community much more quickly.

Acaudio: So, as a follow-up question to that, since the publication of this article, has there been any other research conducted as a follow-up to this one?

Arryn: That’s another great question. So, right now, I’m working on similar work that focuses on transgender women and other gender-diverse people. I’m focusing on HIV risks, substance misuse, and gender affirmation. So, right now, I have a study where I’m developing an intervention that is based on acceptance and commitment therapy to be adapted for transgender women to be delivered by transgender women in a group format. And so, yeah, this work has really inspired future work to work with other populations who are disproportionately affected by HIV and also experiencing much discrimination and systemic oppression.

Acaudio: My last question is, what would be your advice to junior researchers who would want to explore the field of behavioral and social sciences?

Arryn: I would say my advice is don’t be afraid to, you know, email people and express your enthusiasm for what you’re interested in because especially, in this world where we’re often working from home or kind of in this world of working on Zoom, it can be a little bit harder to make those connections and perhaps have conversations. To meet people who are doing work that you might be interested in. So, I would say don’t be afraid to cold email people. You might not get a response, but then you might get a response from someone who’s nice and is passionate about mentoring junior scholars in this area. I have found that has worked for me, because I started the postdoctoral fellowship during the height of Covid-19 pandemic, so I really had to utilise some, cold-emailing people, having some Zoom coffee chats, and that’s really helped to get some connections and the community in the area of work that I do.

Acaudio: Perfect, thank you so much Arryn!

Arryn: Thank you for having me. It was great speaking with you.

Listen to Arryn Guy’s interview here.

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