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UB receives grant to study reservists' substance abuse

Gregory Homish

Gregory Homish is the primary investigator on a $2.3 million federal grant that will fund a study of the social and environmental influences on reserve soldiers' substance use and marital aggression. Photo: Douglas Levere

By SARA R. SALDI

Published June 19, 2014

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 past month, 44.5 percent reported binge drinking and 7.5 percent were listed as chronic drinkers.

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 substance use?

UB recently was 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, assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, the primary investigator on the grant, says this study will be in contrast to traditional research on this subject. 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 shoulders 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.

Homish explains that while individual, partner and peer influences have been studied among adolescents, college students and young adults, it is rare 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, he says.

“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; 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 feature 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 policymakers in Washington, D.C.

Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, says 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 and John Violanti from the School of Public Health and Health Professions, and Kenneth Leonard from UB’s Research Institute on Addictions.