BUFFALO, N.Y. – A recent Veterans Administration study
found that substance abuse was the most common health problem among
veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the study, 19 percent of
military personnel reported heavy drinking in the past month, 44.5
percent reported binge drinking and 7.5 percent were listed as
However, reserve soldiers who return from deployment to Iraq and
Afghanistan are even more susceptible to mental health and
substance abuse problems than active duty military personnel.
Why are reservists more vulnerable to mental health issues and
substance abuse than active duty personnel and what part does a
reservist’s social environment play in buffering or
increasing the effects of stress and trauma in post-deployment
The University at Buffalo has recently been awarded a $2.3
million grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to
study the social and environmental influences – stress,
trauma and partner and peer substance abuse – on reserve
soldiers’ substance use and marital aggression over time.
The study will run from June 2013 to February 2018.
Gregory G. Homish, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of
Community Health and Health Behavior, the primary investigator on
the grant, says that this study will be in contrast to traditional
research on this subject. He calls this study
Homish describes the study’s subject matter and design as
innovative in three ways.
“First because it specifically focuses on reserve
soldiers, who are an understudied population that often shoulder a
greater burden of substance use than others in the military;
second, because we will apply a ‘social ecological
model’ to the reservists in the study to examine changes in
substance use over a designated duration of time; and, third,
because it will focus on partner and peer influence in adult
substance use,” he says.
According to Homish, while individual, partner, and peer
influences have been studied among adolescents, college students
and young adults, it is a rarity to see social environment factored
into the studies of adult substance use.
And social environment may prove to be extremely important to
reservists upon returning home, says Homish.
“Researchers have speculated that difficulties
transitioning back into civilian and family life may be responsible
for the increased risk observed in reserve soldiers relative to
active duty soldiers. Among these difficulties is trying to handle
the absence of support from other soldiers.”
Homish is an expert in the research of alcohol and substance use
among individuals and their families and his current team will
stand on the shoulders of other studies on which he was either the
primary or co-investigator.
The research approach for the current grant study will be to
include three in-person assessments of reserve soldiers and their
partners over a two-year period. The research team will recruit 400
participants, male and female reservists, who were involved in
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)
and their spouses.
The issue of substance use in the military is of paramount
importance to government officials, the military and policy makers
in Washington, D.C.
Nora Volkow, MD, director of NIDA states that there is a need to
“assess and find solutions to this threat (increases in
substance use) to the health and well-being of our service men and
women, veterans and their families.”
Homish’s co-investigators include Lynn Kozlowski, PhD, and
John Violanti, PhD, from the School of Public Health and Health
Professions and Kenneth Leonard, PhD, from UB’s Research
Institute on Addictions.