Friends at an Outdoor Garden Party

Several lines of research by teams in Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences are seeking insights into the development, maintenance and treatment of problems with alcohol and other co-occurring problems.

Current areas of research include, but are not limited to, the following: 

Effects of Intermittent Adolescent Alcohol Exposure on Brain and Behavior 

Researchers in the department are part of a consortium that is identifying the mechanisms underlying the long-term effects of adolescent intermittent alcohol exposure on brain and behavior and exploring approaches to prevent or reverse those effects.

Current studies address specific epigenetic and molecular mechanisms underlying adolescent intermittent alcohol exposure effects on hippocampal structure and function. 

Co-Occurrence of Opioid & Hazardous Use of Alcohol

Though CDC guidelines recommend screening for alcohol misuse in individuals with opioid prescriptions, no research has yet determined whether yearly alcohol use screenings and brief intervention have any association with impactful opioid-related outcomes. 

To explore this question, Duke Psychiatry researchers are using electronic health records to investigate the co-occurrence of self-reported alcohol use, documented alcohol-related brief intervention by clinicians, and opioid-related outcomes in primary care patients (including opioid prescriptions, opioid use disorder diagnosis and opioid-related hospitalizations) among veterans. 

Co-Occurrence of Hazardous Use of Alcohol and Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors

Though alcohol use often occurs at the time of suicide attempts, existing research provides an unclear picture of when, where, for whom and under which contexts alcohol use at a given moment confers greatest risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

To explore these questions, our researchers are conducting smart phone-based ecological momentary assessment (EMA) research that involves participants completing brief self-report surveys about alcohol use and their current thoughts, feelings, urges, certain behaviors, and contextual factors. Ultimately, information gleaned from this line of research could lead to the development of just-in-time interventions to reduce alcohol-related suicide risk at the time a person needs it the most.

Mobile Health Technology & Contingency Management

Research teams are also examining the use of mobile health technology to make behavioral treatments more accessible to people with alcohol use disorders. One example of this is research on a mobile health application that makes contingency management—a treatment that provides monetary incentives to incentivize abstinence from a substance—available to people with alcohol use disorder. Combined with the coping skills developed through cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management could contribute to significantly improved outcomes from alcohol use disorder treatments. 

In addition, our researchers are investigating whether adding mobile contingency management to evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders improves the clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of treatment. 


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