Our program of research focuses broadly on key processes and mechanisms that contribute to risk, etiology, and/or successful prevention and intervention efforts for individuals with alcohol and other drug (AOD) use disorders. This allows us to ask and answer fundamental questions with high public health significance such as:
- Who is at greatest risk to experience problems with their AOD use and can we identify them before they experience these problems?
- Why do people find AOD use rewarding and why is it so difficult for some people to stop using after experiencing problems?
- How do changes in how people feel and make decisions when they are intoxicated contribute to the problems caused by AOD use (e.g., sexual assaults, aggression, risk-taking, drinking and driving)?
- How does chronic AOD use change the brain (i.e., neuroadaptations) to alter how people feel and respond to rewards and stressors in ways that sustain AOD use disorders or cause relapses following initially successful treatment?
- Can we pursue AOD use harm reduction by combining sophisticated analytic approaches (e.g., machine learning/predictive analytics) with novel, highly informative “big data” that have only recently become available through smartphones in the real-world (e.g., GPS; voice and text message communications; social media activity; physiology via wearable biosensors). These harm reduction efforts include efficient psychiatric classification (e.g., early diagnosis of AOD use disorders) to support early intervention; temporally precise AOD relapse risk prediction to allow for “just-in-time” interventions; and personalized interventions (e.g., precision medicine) that allow us to adapt our treatments to both characteristics of the patient and that moment in time.
To answer these questions and pursue these goals, we study both non-clinical (recreational AOD users with no history of problems) and clinical (e.g., patients with AOD use disorders) samples. We regularly employ psychophysiological measures (e.g., event related brain potentials, electroencephalography, startle reflex potentiation) in carefully designed experimental tasks in our laboratory and the Clinical Research Unit at the UW Hospital. We combine these tasks and measures with pharmacological manipulations (e.g., norepinephrine antagonists, alcohol, nicotine) to examine the effects of drugs of abuse on neural, psychological, and behavioral processes. More recently, we have marshaled the power of mobile technologies to monitor participants’ subjective experience, behavior, social interactions, and physiology during their day-to-day activities in their natural environment. All of this work is grounded in a well-developed theoretical framework that is anchored by basic research in psychology and the neurosciences with both humans and animal models. Our work is also impactful because it crosses translational boundaries between animals to humans in the laboratory and from the laboratory to the clinic and day-to-day lives of patients. Our research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIAAA, NIDA, NCI and NIMH) continuously since 1998.
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