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Professor develops test to identify risk of future DWI offenses


Published September 26, 2013

Thomas Nochajski

When combatting impaired driving, society has to meet it with prevention rather than strictly punishment, says Thomas H. Nochajski, UB research professor of social work.

Nochajski and his colleagues created the Research Institute on Addictions Self-Inventory (RIASI) to better identify individuals who are at high risk to get a subsequent impaired driving conviction. The underlying goal is to improve outcomes for education and rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing DWI incidents.

The RIASI is a 52-item test that measures distal factors like hostility, sensation seeking, depression, anxiety, interpersonal competence, childhood risk factors, criminal history, and health issues. It also tests proximal factors, like drinking habits, family history, alcohol beliefs and use, to alleviate problems.  

Fourteen states, four Canadian provinces and the Netherlands currently are using the RIASI in some capacity for handling DWI cases. Nochajski and his fellow researchers are developing a study for possible use in Poland and Russia, and believe the RIASI instrument could be used worldwide.

Nochajski, who also holds an appointment as an associate research scientist at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions, began researching the effects of alcohol on driving-related skills when he realized screening and assessment of DWI offenders lacked a good understanding of issues related to secondary and tertiary prevention. He believed that in order to decrease the prevalence of drunken driving, screening, assessment and intervention strategies would need to change. 

Society should focus on recognizing which offenders are more at risk for developing alcohol or drug problems, or a subsequent impaired-driving incident, Nochajski says.

When individuals are not ready to change their substance abuse behavior, it’s difficult for authorities to identify how to get the person back on track, according to Catherine Dulmus, professor and associate dean for research in the School of Social Work. But the RIASI alleviates the issue.

“Using indirect methods for assessment purposes can help us not only identify the high-risk individuals, but also help us better understand the needs that we should address when we build our interventions for that person,” Dulmus says.

She believes Nochajski’s work clearly exemplifies the School of Social Work’s objectives in that is has valuable application and impact in the community. Additionally, developing assessment methods for high-risk groups like DWI offenders is an integral part of social work, especially at UB, she says.