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Substance use disorders are a major public health problem in the United States and worldwide, accidental drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these negative health impacts. In addition to hindering an individual’s ability to live a healthy, productive life, drug use also increases the incidence of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. 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 better elucidate the biological basis of addictive diseases and other effects of drugs of abuse that result in altered states of biological function. Knowledge gained about these drugs and the endogenous pathways they impact is key to identifying and developing tactics to prevent and successfully treat substance use disorder, as well as to alleviate human suffering by ameliorating pain, inflammation, and the medical and societal consequences of drug use. As a result of this research, potential new therapeutics for the treatment of substance use disorders and pain are under investigation by CSAR investigators.

Over thirty 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, where investigators use multidisciplinary approaches to research questions of importance in the field.

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

  • Dissection of neural circuits and mediators that control drug-seeking behaviors
  • Discovery of therapeutic targets and novel agents to reduce relapse to drug-seeking behaviors
  • Molecular and genetic mechanisms that control expression of receptors for drugs of abuse 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 addiction, pain and analgesia
  • Interaction of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV or its products) and drugs of abuse 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., D9-tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], cannabidiol, synthetic cannabinoids); psychostimulants (e.g., cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, synthetic cathinones [bath salts]); and nicotine and alcohol.

Supported by a P30 Core Center of Excellence grant from NIDA/NIH to amplify drug abuse research and a NIDA training grant to support the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in addiction-related research, the mission of CSAR is to encourage and foster multidisciplinary research to understand the basic biology of addiction and drugs of abuse.

More Information on our Research Programs

More Information on our Educational Programs