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Substance abuse and dependence is a major public health problem in the United States and worldwide. Not only does addiction damage the ability to live a normal life, but it also increases the incidence of infectious diseases including HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. The biological basis for addiction is not completely understood, and effective treatments for substance use disorders are limited.

The mission of the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CSAR) is to carry out research to understand the biological basis of drug addiction and other effects of addictive drugs that result in altered states of biological function. Knowledge gained about these drugs and the endogenous pathways they impact is important in preventing and successfully treating substance use disorder, as well as to alleviate human suffering through amelioration of pain, inflammation and the medical consequences of drug abuse. As a result of this research, potential new therapeutics for the treatment of substance use disorders and pain are under investigation by CSAR investigators.

Thirty-one faculty members with primary academic appointments in 11 different departments of the School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy and College of Liberal Arts have secondary appointments in CSAR. CSAR investigators use multidisciplinary approaches to research areas of importance in the field as outlined below.

Ongoing pre-clinical research in CSAR addresses the following topics:

  • Dissection of neural circuits and mediators that control addictive behaviors
  • Discovery of novel agents and therapeutic targets to reduce relapse to drug-seeking behaviors
  • Molecular and genetic mechanisms that control expression of receptors for addictive drugs and the endogenous ligands for those receptors
  • Receptor-ligand interactions and signal transduction mechanisms that initiate and control cellular responses to drugs of abuse and potential therapeutics
  • Behavioral and physiological consequences of exposure to drugs of abuse
  • Discovery of novel opioid-sparing therapies to relieve pain
  • Interrelationships between classical neurotransmitter systems and immune mediators in the brain particularly as related to addictive processes and pain and analgesia
  • Interaction of human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) or its products, and addictive substances on viral progression and on neural, immune, and other physiological processes
  • Effects of drugs of abuse and the endogenous pathways they impact on physiological states including reward, craving, anxiety, and depression
  • Interrelationships between stress, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury on pain, inflammation, and drug seeking behaviors
  • Anti-inflammatory effects of synthetic and phytocannabinoids 

Research in CSAR encompasses many classes of drugs including opioids (e.g., heroin, morphine, oxycodone, buprenorphine), cannabinoids (e.g., D-9-tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], cannabidiol, synthetic cannabinoids), psychostimulants (e.g., cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, synthetic cathinones [bath salts]), nicotine and alcohol.

The mission of CSAR is to encourage and foster interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to understanding the basic biology of abused drugs. A P30 Core Center of Excellence grant from NIDA/NIH serves as a local and national resource to enhance drug abuse research. A NIDA training grant supports the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in addiction-related research. For further information on these two programs, please see the links to Research Programs and Educational Programs, respectively.