Duke receives grant to study substance abuse among teens

Duke University will soon open a new center to study high school drinking and drug use and what leads to this behavior.

The university’s Center for Child and Family Policy has received a five-year, $6.7 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Starting July 1, the center will use the grant to fund the new Center for the Study of Adolescent Risk and Resilience, or C-StARR.

“Our overall goal is to bring together people who already are studying the self-control processes that relate to drug use and inspire them to develop new and bigger projects,” said Rick Hoyle, a professor and social psychologist who will lead the effort.

Nearly half of U.S. students have used an illicit drug by 12th grade, and alcohol-related incidents kill about 5,000 people under age 21 annually, according to the National Institutes of Health. More than 190,000 underage drinkers visited an emergency room in 2008.

Hoyle said C-StARR is a “timely investment” in substance use. The drug abuse institute found marijuana use among 10th- through 12th-graders to be near five-year highs in a survey released in February.

There is evidence that development in adolescence can be impaired by drug use, and the use of drugs can compromise the ability to control behavior beyond the period of intoxication, Hoyle said.

“The bottom line is we just don’t know enough about the factors that are behind the use of these substances,” he added.

‘Bigger and better’

C-StARR will build on previous research efforts. Hoyle said he hopes the center will inspire and equip researchers through collaboration.

“When you get smart people together, you can presumably do bigger and better things,” he said.

C-StARR will combine several different areas of research, including neuroscience, biology and psychology.

One project will use brain-imaging data to explore adolescent decision-making processes.

‘Research ... into ideas’

Other research will contextualize substance abuse by looking at social situations such as family and peer relations, schooling and neighborhoods. Another area of focus will be the development of policies, preventions and interventions. “What C-StARR will do is translate our basic scientific research … into ideas for policy, for prevention and for intervention,” said Kenneth Dodge, the director of the Center for Child and Family Policy.

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