Alcohol Use Among Concerned Partners of Heavy Drinking Service Members and Veterans

Published in: Journal of Marital and Family Therapy [Epub August 2017]. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12261

Posted on RAND.org on January 30, 2018

by Lindsey M. Rodriguez, Karen Chan Osilla, Thomas E. Trail, Kristie Gore, Eric R. Pedersen

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Research Questions

  1. What is the relationship between mental health and the drinking habits of concerned partners (CPs) of military service members?
  2. Does drinking among CPs moderate the effect of the Partners Connect intervention?

Heavy drinking in relationships is complex and we focus on an understudied sample of concerned partners (CPs) worried about their U.S. service member/veteran partner's drinking. We evaluated the link between CP drinking and their own mental health, and how CP drinking moderated the efficacy of a web-based intervention designed to address CPs' mental health and communication. CPs (N = 234) were randomly assigned to intervention or control and completed assessments at baseline and 5 months later. CP drinking was associated with greater CP depression, anxiety, and anger independent of partner drinking. Moreover, the intervention was more efficacious in reducing depression for heavy drinking CPs. CPs are often an overlooked population and resources to help support them are needed.

Key Findings

  • Heavy drinking CPs reported more mental health problems and poorer relationship quality at baseline.
  • Regardless of how much they perceived their partners to drink, CPs who drank heavily were more likely to support their partner’s drinking behavior, less likely to withdraw from their drinking partner, and less likely to support their partner’s sobriety.
  • The Partners Connect program was more effective in reducing symptoms of depression among heavy drinking CPs than among lighter drinking CPs.
  • Neither the level of drinking among CPs nor the perceived partner drinking were associated with relationship quality.
  • These findings suggest the importance of working with CPs to address their mental health symptoms and provide them with effective communication tools in order to support behavioral change in their partner.
  • An online-based intervention may be a promising approach to reaching CPs who may not otherwise seek care.

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