The Substance Abuse Research Laboratory - Dr. Sara Dolan

My research is focused on neuropsychological function in persons with substance abuse and other impulse-control disorders. I am interested in how neuropsychological dysfunction, including problems with memory and executive functions, is related to etiology of substance use disorders, as well as how these issues affect substance abuse treatment process and outcome. I am currently conducting research on whether executive dysfunction predicts substance abuse treatment failure in a population of non-psychotic substance dependent individuals, which has led to my interest in the development of novel behavioral treatments for these patients, based on their individual neuropsychological profiles (i.e., patient-treatment matching). My proposed targeted behavioral treatment for cognitively-impaired substance abusers focuses traditional cognitive behavioral treatment on a small number of concrete, efficacious relapse prevention coping skills. The hypothesis for this program is that cognitively impaired substance abusers may have more difficulty acquiring and using the coping skills that they are taught in treatment because those skills may be too complex and abstract. However, more concrete behavioral skills that are repeated and role-played so that they become overlearned may enhance treatment outcomes.

A second area of research, which is just beginning, is the diagnosis and treatment of the comorbidity between PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Because the symptoms and causes of these two disorders overlap to such a degree (for example, a blast injury sustained while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan could cause both of these disorders), the differential diagnosis is not well understood. In addition, once a TBI that may impair cognitive function, including attention, memory, and executive functions, is present, its effects on psychotherapeutic treatment are also not well understood. Our lab is working toward developing an understanding of this complex and all-too-common comorbidity, as well as developing psychological treatments for returning war veterans with the "signature injury" (TBI) of the current conflicts.

We are looking for 4V96 students to help us with these, as well as other, addiction-related research studies. We ask for a minimum of a 1-year commitment, and students can begin to earn 4V96 credit in the second semester of that commitment.