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HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Examining Changes in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Substance Use Among a Sample of Canadian Veterans Working with Service Dogs: An Exploratory Patient- Oriented Longitudinal Study

February, 2021
Article:

This study investigates the effects service dogs have on helping veterans with PTSD and Substance Use. A sample of 5 veterans took part in the study, noting both an increase and decrease in PTSD and related symptoms, as well as their substance use.

Abstract

Comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use (SU) is a growing health concern among Canadian veterans. Veterans are increasingly seeking symptom relief for PTSD and comorbid SU by engaging service dogs (SDs). Despite promising results, the efficacy of SDs in aiding veterans warrants further investigation. An exploratory patientoriented, longitudinal, time-series, mixed-methods research design was employed with a sample of five Canadian veterans matched with SDs from AUDEAMUS, Inc. PTSD and SU were measured at six time points over 1 year with the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (PCL-5), Drug Use Screening Inventory Revised Substance Use Subscale (DUSI-R SU), and one-onone semi-structured interviews. There were clinically significant decreases in the veterans’ PTSD scores with the PCL-5. Interview content complemented these results. Veterans offered accounts of ways in which their SDs directly supported and helped manage their PTSD and related symptoms. While DUSI-R SU scale changes were non-significant, during interviews each veteran reported a decrease in their use of opioids and alcohol, while some reported an increase in their use of medical cannabis. However, veterans also highlighted ways in which their SDs sometimes contributed to increases in their PTSD and related symptoms, as well as their SU. This was particularly evident during the early stages of training and bonding. This study makes an important contribution to the emerging field examining the potential benefit of SDs for veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Additionally, this study is novel in its identification of the SDs beneficial contributions to veterans’ comorbid problematic use of substances.

Full Reference

Williamson, L., Dell, C. A., Osgood, N., Chalmers, D., Lohnes, C., Carleton, N., & Asmundson, G. (2021). Examining Changes in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Substance Use Among a Sample of Canadian Veterans Working with Service Dogs: An Exploratory Patient- Oriented Longitudinal Study. Journal of Veterans Studies, 7(1), 1–13. DOI: http://doi.org/10.21061/jvs.v7i1.194

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