Our Research: A Sociopharmacology Approach

Most people are aware that tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs lead to addiction, cancer, and other health and social problems, but they still use them!

We believe that psychoactive drugs continue to be a problem in our society because of they are very powerful, acute mood-altering agents. Drugs of abuse hijack the brain’s circuits that produce mood and motivation. These circuits are designed to respond to natural events, like food, sex, and social interaction. When the brain is exposed to drugs, unnatural changes in the way we think and feel ensue, which can result in paradoxical addictive behaviors, like the continuation of drug use despite experiencing severe negative consequences.

Given this background, our research places high priority investigating the contextual factors that modulate the mood-altering and addictive effects of drugs. These contextual factors can be as broad as the social-environmental forces of discrimination and disadvantage and as narrow as the internal-psychobiological states produced by gene transcription and the release of neuro-active hormones.

We call this program of research, “sociopharmacology”, which studies why, how, and for whom drugs are addictive. Sociopharmacology applies field-based correlational research, lab-based experimental psychopharmacology research, and ecological momentary assessment to examine individual differences and contextual moderators of the mood-altering effects of drugs. This transdisciplinary approach allows us to:

  1. Investigate cross-population differences in the psychopharmacological effects of drugs by age, gender, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and mental health in order to explain disparities in the prevalence and persistence of addiction
  2. Isolate mechanisms underlying the addictiveness of drugs in the lab as well as identify how these processes play out in the natural environment