The Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions (CASAA) has been awarded a five-year, $1.7 million institutional research training grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Principal Investigator and Distinguished Professor Barbara S. McCrady says the goal of the grant is to provide multidisciplinary training to prepare future scientists to conduct research to better understand processes of change in drinking, and to improve approaches to the prevention and treatment of alcohol-related problems.

"The whole idea is to provide support for the next generation of research scientists and to help develop their areas of expertise and the skills necessary to do that research," said McCrady, who had a similar institutional research training grant when she was at Rutgers University. "We will also help students develop skills to learn how to obtain funding for their research."

Titled "Alcohol Research Training: Change Methods & Mechanisms," the training program will support four pre-doctoral fellows in psychology and four post-doctoral fellows drawn from a variety of academic disciplines. The students will receive a full stipend as defined by NIAAA, approximately $21,000 for pre-docs and $37,000 for post-docs, depending on when they received their doctorate. The grant also supports travel to professional meetings and provides additional funds to support research. NIAAA also pays up to 60 percent of tuition expenses. UNM, which is one of 28 institutions across the country with an NIAAA institutional research training grant, will waive the other 40 percent as an important institutional component in support of the grant.

"Heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are major concerns for health and safety," said McCrady. "Research has led to better prevention and treatment approaches, but outcomes are less than optimal. This training grant draws upon multiple disciplines to prepare researchers to investigate the psychological, social and biological mechanisms that underpin the process of change. Students will apply this knowledge to developing and testing new models for prevention and treatment and apply these models to underserved populations."

Some of the areas the students will address include: factors that stimulate change in at-risk and clinical populations; what psychological, social and biological mechanisms underlie successful change at the individual level; types of interventions that are more or less effective in creating long-term behavior change and what aspects of treatments account for their effectiveness; study risk profiles such as genetic, neurobiological, psychological and socio-environmental; and how change processes and interventions vary based on individual differences. Overall, they will be evaluated in nine areas of competence before they finish the program.

"The students need to understand what constitutes the problem, the mechanisms underlying effective change including brain, social psychological and coping skills," said McCrady. "We can use different approaches to treatment the more we understand what those mechanisms are. We know certain treatments seem to be effective, but we don't know much about how or why. We think we can make treatments better if we understand how and why better."

The program will be directed and operated by CASAA, UNM's multidisciplinary center devoted to treatment, prevention and epidemiological research on alcohol and other substance use disorders. Faculty from several academic departments on the main campus and in Health Sciences will contribute to the training program. Faculty at Mind Research Network, a private non-profit neuroimaging center on the UNM's North Campus will also provide training opportunities for the fellows.

"The institutional grant is a statement about the quality of alcohol and addictions research conducted by the faculty here at the University of New Mexico and the resources we have here," added McCrady.

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