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Addiction study will address forgotten subset of military population

June 18, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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In a military culture already susceptible to seeing service members with addiction and other behavioral health problems fall through cracks in the system, members of the Reserves quite possibly face the toughest challenges in accessing needed help. This segment of the military population has arguably received the least attention in the research and treatment communities, but a new study being launched by a University at Buffalo research team could provide some much-needed data to inform future interventions.

A five-year, $2.3 million study financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will explore areas such as the effect of partner dynamics on a group of soldiers that is subject to greater isolation than active-duty service members after returning home from an overseas tour.

“When members of the Reserves return home, they’re not still connected to an active military base,” says Gregory Homish, PhD, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. “You’re not with the people you served with anymore. There are ways to stay in touch, of course, but it’s not the same as getting together and meeting up with them.”

The University at Buffalo study also will depart from other research that has been conducted in that it will focus heavily on the influences a spouse or live-in partner has on the reservist, for good or bad. The study population generally will be made up of individuals in the 18-40 age range who are married or living with a partner, says Homish. The participants will have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Who they’re living with can be a powerful force for positive change, or the opposite can be true,” he says.

He adds, “We want to look beyond the individual factor. These people don’t live in a vacuum.” Peer influences on behavior also will be explored in the study, Homish says.

It is already known through past research findings that individuals serving in the Reserves tend to experience a higher prevalence of substance use problems and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology than their active-duty military counterparts do, says Homish. Multiple deployments also take their toll, and Homish says this will be another factor explored in the study.

He says the research will involve a baseline assessment and one- and two-year follow-up analyses. He hopes the study will generate useful information that can inform prevention and intervention strategies, possibly identifying whether couples therapy or other treatment modalities approaches have the potential to address the issues that members of the Reserves face.

The study begins this month and will not be completed until early 2018, although Homish expects that some findings will be released over the course of the research period.