The words from Lean on Me ring true for those recovering from substance abuse problems. Elizabeth M. Tracy, professor from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, wants to examine exactly who are in those networks and how they either help or hinder recovery.
Tracy and a team of researchers will follow 420 women who are receiving help from three local social service agencies over their first year in recovery to understand what kinds of individual social networks women need to build to support a healthy recovery.
Tracy, chair of the Mandel School's doctoral program, is the lead investigator on a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
What makes this study unique is that it focuses on the supports women already have. Most prior research has focused on substance abusing men.
Women in recovery need people who support sobriety.
However, women often return to environments with few abstinent role models and many people who continue to use.
Non-supportive networks make the work of recovery that much harder, says Tracy. Frequently women have experienced trauma from abusive situations prior to treatment and may continue to be traumatized within their social network.
"Many of these women are not only dealing with substance abuse but also mental health problems like depression or post traumatic stress disorder," explains Tracy.
But she adds that data from the experiences of these women will contribute to the development of social network interventions as a component of treatment for women with dual disorders.
The researchers will follow the women in recovery from substance abuse and also those with dual disorders of a mental health and substance use disorder. While tracking women over their first year of recovery, data will be collected at four points during the year: within the first seven days of treatment, at 30 days into treatment, and then at six months and at 12 months.
Tracy says they want to document how women seek social support as well as how those supports evolve so that social workers can understand what women need at different points in their recovery.
This study builds on growing evidence about the importance of social networks in the recovery process.
Tracy previously completed a NIDA-funded pilot study of 136 women. That study provided the groundwork for this larger longitudinal study. She found that about one-third of the recovering women viewed their social supports as negative; most received support from families but some of those family members abused drugs or alcohol; family members provided concrete support but not the emotional or informational support the women needed, and some social networks became a source of trauma as well as support.
Fearing they might lose their children, Tracy said nearly half the women in the pilot study did not seek help from a mental or social service agency.
"We hope to find ways for social workers and other practitioners to help these women at different stages in their recovery. Ultimately, we would like to help women emphasize their positive social contacts and avoid their negative ones," says Tracy.
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