VOLUME 31, NUMBER 22 THURSDAY, March 2, 2000

Gerard J. Connors is professor of psychology and director of the Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), which became part of UB last fall. Located at 1021 Main St. in Buffalo, the institute has approximately 170 employees.

send this article to a friend What is RIA's mission?

RIA was established in 1970 to conduct research on the origins, development and treatment of alcohol and other substance abuse. In the years since its founding, RIA has emerged as a national leader in alcohol- and substance-abuse prevention, treatment and policy research. RIA scientists and their staffs are overseeing a diverse research portfolio, including topics related to etiology, prevention and treatment of addictions; the role of alcohol and other drugs in violence; needs of special populations, including minorities, women and youth; family functioning; drinking and driving; social, psychological and neurophysiological aspects of addictions; health and medical aspects of addictions, and prevalence of gambling behavior. The institute also offers addiction-treatment services through its outpatient Clinical Research Center, an exemplary program that applies clinical research to improve treatment.

Connors What is the institute's current research emphasis?

The research emphases are diverse. For example, ongoing projects are investigating alcohol use and high-risk sexual behaviors among adolescents and young adults; issues related to alcohol and early marriage; women's alcohol use and victimization; the prevalence of gambling nationwide, as well as the effect of gambling on the significant other; prevention of alcohol problems in rural areas; drug-coping skills of dually diagnosed patients; work, alcohol and school performance among adolescents; HIV prevention through drinking reduction in college students; dopamine function after prenatal exposure; Hepatitis C transmission in sex, violence, and alcohol and drug use, and eating disorders among women.

Wasn't RIA once part of UB?

Yes, it was, and the recent transfer brings RIA back to its earliest roots. RIA originally was established at UB, and our first director was Cedric Smith, UB professor of pharmacology and toxicology. From the late 1970s until our recent transfer back to UB, we were part of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

Will RIA be studying cigarette addiction?

We have been involved in some research on smoking, and I anticipate RIA scientists doing more work in this area in upcoming years. As an example, several RIA scientists have submitted proposals to study smoking behavior and strategies for smoking cessation among pregnant women.

Do brain studies indicate that drug addictions manifest themselves in the human brain in the same way?

Substances of abuse appear to increase a brain chemical called dopamine. It generally is believed that this effect produces the "high" often reported following alcohol or drug use. Animal studies have shown that prolonged use of alcohol and other drugs changes the balance of dopamine in the brain and this could be a contributing factor to addiction. Although there have been only a few human studies, the results do indicate that such changes in the brain dopamine level also occur in humans using alcohol or other drugs.

Given the immense social and economic cost of alcohol and substance abuse to society, has your research affected policy development?

I'm pleased to report it has. As one recent example, research conducted at RIA on drinking and driving has been used in deliberations regarding policies on driving under the influence of alcohol and on the clinical evaluation of individuals arrested for this offense. Research conducted at RIA on fetal alcohol syndrome and on the onset of alcohol and other drug use among youth similarly has informed prevention efforts and policy development.

What is RIA's Clinical Research Center and what types of services does it provide?

A variety of clinical services for alcohol and other substance-use disorders are provided to the public through the Clinical Research Center (CRC). Established in 1990, the CRC is the only alcoholism and substance-abuse treatment facility in New York State designed specifically for clinical research. In this manner, the CRC plays an important role in developing and evaluating methods of addictions treatment. Through their involvement in clinical treatment research, CRC staff members stay informed about the latest developments in substance-abuse assessment and treatment issues and are able to transfer that knowledge to their work with clients. The CRC offers brief screening interviews; comprehensive assessments, including thorough medical evaluation; a range of treatment services based on research findings; brief treatment programs for problem drinkers; individual counseling and group therapy (which includes smoking cessation); marital and family counseling; education and coping-skills training; relapse prevention; aftercare services, and a bilingual staff (Spanish). The DWI Assessment and Treatment Program is intended to meet the needs of clients referred to the CRC by the courts system. The CRC accepts Medicaid and most insurance plans; a sliding scale is offered based on income. No one is denied treatment because of an inability to pay. The CRC treats persons 18 years and older who have alcohol and other drug problems. The CRC's telephone number is 887-2387.

Now that RIA is formally a part of UB, what kinds of interactions do you envision between RIA and UB units?

First off, let me mention that there have been a variety of such interactions over the years, including collaborations with the departments of Social and Preventive Medicine, Psychology and Sociology, and with the School of Social Work. As an example, RIA and the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine collaborated on the development of the Center for Clinical and Medical Epidemiology of Alcohol, which was funded for seven years by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In addition, the School of Social Work and RIA are working together in the area of technology transfer and research dissemination in the addictions. I anticipate that such collaborations will be increasing in frequency and scope in upcoming years

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