UB researcher recruiting women whose partners are problem drinkers

Woman, looking stressed, with alcoholic husband in background.

Stop Spinning My Wheels project combines treatment with research to help women

Release Date: July 30, 2020

“This is a hidden and underserved population. With the added stress of COVID-19 and increased unemployment, we’ve seen a rise in the number of women who are interested in getting help. ”
Robert Rychtarik, PhD, Senior research scientist, Department of Psychiatry and Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Women whose partners have a drinking problem are the focus of a clinical trial being conducted by Robert G. Rychtarik, PhD, senior research scientist in clinical psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

The Stop Spinning My Wheels project is part of a two-pronged research and treatment initiative designed to evaluate different methods of providing support and counseling to women with alcohol-dependent partners while at the same time helping participants to hone their coping skills.

“If a woman’s husband or live-in boyfriend is an alcoholic, that’s not just his problem—it’s a problem for his wife or girlfriend, too,” Rychtarik said. “Our research program is designed to reduce stress for these women, help their marriages and relationships, and help them improve their lives.”

Rychtarik and his colleagues are currently recruiting women from across New York State to participate in the confidential, secure, online program, which is offered at no charge. Women who are living with a partner who has a drinking problem can learn more at www.StopSpinningMyWheels.org.

The research is being conducted by the Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions at UB in collaboration with Brian Danaher, PhD, research professor and senior research scientist at the University of Oregon Prevention Science Institute. Co-investigators are Christopher Barrick, PhD, and Neil B. McGillicuddy, PhD, both also of the Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions.

It is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Getting nowhere

“The name of the research comes from a common feeling experienced by a woman whose partner has a drinking problem,” Rychtarik said. “She tries everything she can to get him to stop drinking, but is getting nowhere. She feels she is just spinning her wheels.”

The program is designed exclusively for women because that is where the greatest need is. According to Rychtarik, an estimated 7.7 million people in the United States are living with a partner with a drinking problem. Of these, about 73% are women living with a male partner. In all, estimates suggest about one in 20 adult women are married or living with a partner with an alcohol use disorder.  

“This is a hidden and underserved population,” Rychtarik said, noting that there is currently limited professional help designed for people living with a problem drinker. “With the added stress of COVID-19 and increased unemployment, we’ve seen a rise in the number of women who are interested in getting help.”

Living with an alcohol-dependent partner has several negative impacts, Rychtarik said.

“There is an increasing body of research that shows that women with an alcoholic partner experience significant emotional distress that arises directly from problems brought on by the partner’s drinking,” he said.

“They show an increased risk of medical and mental health concerns,” he continued. “There are also increased health care costs.”

Fear of retribution

Women in this circumstance often refrain from seeking help, or do so secretly, because they fear retribution if the spouse finds out, don’t want to damage the family structure, or don’t want to face stigmatization, Rychtarik said.

In addition, he said, there are institutional and socioeconomic barriers that discourage these women from seeking help, and when they do seek help, newer, empirically tested services are out of their reach. That is why novel delivery models, such as easily accessible, inexpensive (or no-cost) web-based programs, are needed.

Stop Spinning My Wheels is designed to provide participants with the coping skills they need to lower their stress levels, improve their quality of life, maintain their safety, and possibly give them tools to help motivate their partner to stop or cut back on alcohol consumption.

Rychtarik and his colleagues hope to recruit 450 women from across New York State to participate in the program. About 200 have been recruited since the program launched in October 2019.

Study participants will complete the confidential, online program at their own pace, from their own home or another location they chose. Program materials consist of videos, readings and interacting with the Stop Spinning My Wheels website. Participants also will take part in research interviews and complete online questionnaires periodically over the course of 15 months.

Prospective study subjects first go through a five-minute online or telephone screening. Eligible women will then be contacted for a telephone interview with a research assistant from UB. If the project is deemed appropriate for them and they are interested, they will be randomly sorted into one of three groups.

Women in the first group will work through the self-contained, online educational materials on their own. The second group will use the same self-paced materials but will also receive telephone coaching as needed. The third group will be given a collection of online readings that has been derived from internet searches.

All participants will be assessed five times: before they start the 12-week program; half-way through; at the 12-week point; after six months and after a year. The program is provided at no charge and participants will be paid for the time they spend in research interviews.

For more information about The Stop Spinning My Wheels Pproject, visit http://www.StopSpinningMyWheels.org or call 716-887-2484 or 1-800-679-3010.

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Barbara Branning
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