By BERT GAMBINI
Published June 8, 2023
A UB social work researcher has received a roughly $421,000 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to support an innovative project that will explore how a person’s emotional changes during the early stages of recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) can influence the potential success of their recovery.
Negative emotions that can easily arise in the course of daily life are among the leading causes of relapse during recovery from AUD, a medical condition sometimes referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence or alcoholism. People diagnosed with AUD lack the ability to stop or control their alcohol use despite its apparent consequences to health, work and relationships.
More than 28 million adults in the U.S. reported having AUD in 2021, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and Braden Linn, visiting assistant professor in the School of Social Work and the grant’s principal investigator, says there are more than 22 million people who identify as being in recovery.
“But we don’t have a lot of ways to support this population,” says Linn, an expert in AUD treatment and novel intervention development. “That’s what we want to change.”
Previous research has examined the relationship of negative emotions and relapse, but most of those studies have relied on average levels of negative emotions. Because negative emotions can change quickly and often, averages do not represent the complete emotional arc experienced during a person’s recovery. Rather than averages, emotion dynamics, which are at the center of Linn’s grant, track trajectories and patterns of emotion over time to provide additional and unique information that averages don’t capture.
Wide fluctuations in emotions are associated with poor emotional health and several mental health disorders, and are related to increases in smoking.
“Information provided by emotion dynamics can give us a more nuanced understanding of how negative emotions impact recovery,” says Linn. “Evidence that fluctuations are related to relapse can lead to interventions that can help people in the early stages of recovery from AUD.
“This is information that treatment providers, clinicians, social workers and other health care professionals can use to support their work with people in recovery.”
Linn’s project, with UB colleagues Clara Bradizza, professor of social work; Paul Stasiewicz, professor of social work; and Gregory Wilding, professor of biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, will incorporate multiple daily assessments of negative emotions from participants in the initial (up to three months) and early (three months to one year) stages of an AUD recovery attempt.
“Through a cellphone app, we’re going to be asking people about their emotional state three different times during the day,” says Linn. “From these reports we’ll be able to collect data on feelings and emotions as people go about their lives in the situations and tasks that they do every day.”
The people in those two early stages of recovery are the most likely to relapse, according to Linn.
“Most people make five or six attempts at recovery,” he says. “Part of what this project will do is reduce that number to one or two attempts.”
Linn says the research team is recruiting participants and plans to begin collecting data by September.