Neuroscience of Drug Abuse and Addiction
Addictive disease is a pervasive and growing problem in U.S. society. It contributes to the dissemination of AIDS and other diseases through drug use practices, and costs the nation more than $116 billion per year for health care, lost work productivity, and early death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (20150, abuse of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco cost society $700 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity, and health care. While it has always been considered to be an insidious social problem, addictive disease is now known to have strong neurological underpinnings. Within the Graduate Program in Neuroscience one-fourth of faculty members are actively engaged in the basic and clinical research on addiction.
Graduate students who perform research in these laboratories are supported by individual research grants and NIH-sponsored training programs including a large training grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Through these initiatives, students receive training in addictive disease biology at molecular, cellular, organismal, behavioral, and clinical levels.
Collectively they study the effects of alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opiates on the immune and nervous systems, and the neurobiological underpinnings of drug addiction, overeating, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Areas of research focus include: effect of sex hormones on addiction and drug abuse behavior; approaches to reduce drug use with therapeutic drugs and behavioral modification; role of anxiety on drug seeking behavior; development of novel pharmacotherapies to reduce drug use; basic mechanisms behind alcohol and nicotine addiction; brain imaging approaches to understanding cocaine dependence; neuromodulation interventions to reduce substance abuse; drug design of potential analgesics at opioid receptors; role of endocannabinoids in neuroprotection, synaptic transmission, and neurotoxicity; and understanding the mechanisms that control experience-dependent brain plasticity associated with drug exposure.