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RIA Gets Close to $1 Million to Study Aspects of Gambling, Alcoholism and Smoking

Published August 14, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y.--What are the effects of gambling availability among specific populations? How do you control that impulse to have "just one more drink"? Can a spouse really help a loved one quit smoking?

The University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions has been awarded three grants to study these specific areas of addictive behaviors: the impact of alcohol and gambling availability on the frequency of gambling among Native Americans; impulse control and alcohol use; and partner influence on smoking cessation.

"We are thrilled that these highly innovative projects were selected for support by the National Institutes of Health. In the very competitive funding climate at NIH, these grant awards are a testament to the outstanding work of these RIA researchers and their collaborators," said RIA director Kenneth Leonard.

Senior research scientist Grace Barnes, PhD, principal investigator on the grant "Ecological and Sociocultural Influences on Native Americans Gambling and Alcohol Use," says the study will examine the effects of gambling availability and socio-demographic factors on the frequency of gambling and co-occurring alcohol abuse among Native Americans in the U.S.

"This is an important complement to the ongoing national study of gambling in the U.S. currently being conducted at RIA," says Barnes.

The research team working with Dr. Barnes includes Dr. John Welte and Dr. Marie Tidwell co-investigators in the ongoing U.S. gambling study, as well as two experts in Native American research: David Patterson-Silver Wolf (Adelv unegv Waya), PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis, and Paul Spicer, PhD, of the University of Oklahoma.

Barnes' grant is funded in the amount of $416,063 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The second grant, awarded to RIA research scientist, Rebecca Houston, PhD, will study whether impulse control during alcohol treatment affects the ability to stop drinking during and after treatment.

"The concept of impulse control is quite complicated," Houston said. "As a starting point, we are trying to identify what parts of impulse control are most important for change during alcoholism treatment."

The study will examine further whether new strategies for modifying impulse control can be developed through or during alcohol treatment.

One of those new strategies will be Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training.

"HRV training is a technique developed by Paul Leher, PhD, and others, which involves a simple series of breathing exercises to increase HRV," said Houston.

"We believe that HRV, which is a physiological index of self-regulation, is linked to impulse control. An increase in HRV--through training--may result in an increase in impulse control and, ultimately, better control over drinking."

Houston explains that because HRV breathing exercises can be done anywhere and at any time, they may provide an easy, accessible way for individuals to cope with in-the-moment impulses to drink.

"If these strategies and exercises are practiced regularly, they may contribute to long-term general health benefits, in additional to improved alcohol treatment outcome," she said.

Houston's grant is funded by NIAAA in the amount of $73,400.

The third grant has been awarded by the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) to RIA research scientist Jaye L. Derrick, PhD, to study smoking cessation.

Titled "The Daily Experiences with Smoking Cessation," the study will examine specific partner behaviors that are helpful and harmful when a smoker is trying to quit.

"Previous research has shown that social support is important for quitting smoking—smokers with a greater number of supportive 'close others,' or with a partner who is particularly supportive, are more likely to be able to quit," said Derrick.

"However, when researchers have tried to improve smokers' ability to quit by increasing the social support they receive, they have been unable to improve quit rates. In other words, increasing social support does not appear to help."

This may be because researchers have previously tried to improve behaviors that are not particularly helpful, and may even be harmful, Derrick said.

"In this current study, we are trying to identify specific partner behaviors that are helpful when a smoker is trying to quit. We will have smokers and their partners complete short questionnaires multiple times a day for three weeks while the smoker makes a quit attempt," she said.

"Because we are studying these effects in near real time, we will be able to identify behaviors that are important for quitting (both helpful and harmful), even if the smoker and partner are unaware of those behaviors.

"I am interested in this type of research because 'close others' are incredibly important in helping us achieve our goals, or they can undermine us--often without meaning to do so."

In future research, Derrick would like to study the effect of close others on alcohol and other substance use, on diet and exercise and on professional goals like academic achievement or advancing in the workplace.

NIDA funding for Derrick's research is $441,684.

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