Mary Roberts, PhD student researher

By Sarah Schaub

It was her memory of the conversation she had with the 16-year old female patient that kept Mary Roberts, a PhD in Nursing student at WSU, awake while conducting research as part of her studies. The young girl shared that like her mother, she had found prostitution as a means to support her drug addiction. Her story mirrored countless patients who entered chemical dependency (CD) treatment.

“After she entered the CD treatment facility, I could finally grieve for her. She was safe for now and could hopefully get the help she needed so badly,” said Roberts. “She was so young and smart…and I couldn’t help but worry for her mental and physical health now or 35 years from today.”

Conducting research to support young females facing addiction is critical to helping save lives.

“We want to reduce the consequences of substance use—accidental death, overdose, and diseases,” said WSU College of Nursing adjunct Professor Roxanne Vandermause. Her study, Use of Relational Health Theory in Research with Adolescents in Chemical Dependency Treatment, will examine the connection between relational health and treatment and recovery.

Relational health refers to the ability to form positive relationships with others in a variety of environments. These interpersonal interactions are fulfilling and encourage personal growth, empathy for others, and a sense of a meaningful connection.

“Our study will tell us more about how relationships can enhance or hinder the recovery process,” Vandermause said.

“Our treatment strategies focus on improving relational health,” said the director of the treatment facility where the study is being conducted. “Studies like this one will help us to see what we are doing well and where we can continue to improve.”

Studies show people often begin abusing drugs during adolescence—ages 12-17.  Family and personal relationships have significant influence on young adults and drug use is more likely to happen if there is violence, abuse, or other major life stressors present in any of these relationships.

“Many young women in treatment have no idea what a healthy relationship is,” said the director. “I know a young woman who started using meth at the age of 12 so she could be like her older sister. Another preteen started using heroin after being introduced to it by her mother. These stories aren’t pretty or easy to tell, but they often are the beginning of the story for those facing addiction, ” she added.

The study, co-led by Mary Roberts and WSU College of Nursing Interim Associate Dean for Research Tamara Odom-Maryon, will include female participants ages 13-19 who have been admitted to an inpatient CD treatment facility. Each participant will be asked to take a series of three surveys that will measure how each interacts with mentors, peers, and communities. The first survey is administered one week following admission to the CD treatment facility, the second upon discharge, and the third three months post discharge.

“Their responses may help us to understand how their relationships grow or change during treatment,” said Vandermause. “Ultimately this could lead to improvements in intervention and treatment strategies.”

The study is in the data collection process.

Funding for this project was provided by the Foundation for Addictions Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau Delta Chi Chapter, and Washington State University Faculty Fellowship in Nursing Endowment.