HERSHEY, Pa. — Why do many gastric bypass surgery patients develop alcohol and substance abuse problems? Do rare genetic variants influence antisocial drug dependence? Can a phone app reduce heavy drinking in college students? How can researchers provoke intense cravings during brain scans to help understand them better? Can we use such information to predict who is vulnerable to relapse and who is resilient?
These are just a few of the questions addiction researchers in the lab and in the clinic face today. And each of these topics will be in the spotlight on April 4, during the Second Annual Penn State Addiction Symposium. The meeting will bring together faculty, staff and students from across the university’s campuses to advance an understanding of the disease and explore new ways to treat it.
“Even at the same institution, it’s possible to not know what other people are doing in a very similar field,” said Dr. Sue Grigson, professor of neural and behavioral sciences. To help to bridge this gap, she worked with Sarah Ballard, administrative assistant for the department of neural and behavioral sciences, and Bill Milchak, instructor of psychiatry, Penn State College of Medicine — and a licensed social worker and a certified addiction counselor — to organize this year’s meeting.
Dr. Grigson’s lab investigates reward pathways in addiction — and why some individuals might choose a drug over natural rewards like relationships, jobs and food. This preclinical work dovetails nicely with the clinical work of Dr. Scott Bunce, associate professor of psychiatry at the College of Medicine and this year’s featured speaker. Dr. Bunce will show that reduced responsiveness to natural rewards, and other measures, can be used to predict relapse in alcohol and opiate-dependent humans. Drs. Bo Cleveland and Michael Cleveland from the University Park campus will expand upon this work, as will Dr. Stephen Wilson, associate professor of psychology.
Read more about the Second Annual Penn State Addiction Symposium in this Penn State Medicine article.