New Center to Study Causes of Teen Substance Abuse

Focus will be on the biology and behavior behind teen drinking and drug use

Despite decades of prevention efforts, adolescents continue to drink and use drugs at alarming rates, often with deadly results. Nearly half of U.S. students have used an illicit drug by 12th grade, and each year alcohol-related incidents kill some 5,000 young people and send nearly 200,000 to the emergency room, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Duke University's Center for Child and Family Policy hopes to demystify this problem with the aid of a five-year, $6.7 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The grant will fund the new Center for the Study of Adolescent Risk and Resilience (C-StARR), which will focus on the biology and behavior behind teen drinking and drug use.

Rick Hoyle, professor of psychology and neuroscience and an associate director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, will lead the effort.  

"Marijuana and alcohol use are not going down, so clearly we need new data on what causes people to use," Hoyle said. "That will give us clues on how to intervene in ways that encourage them not to use."

C-StARR will emphasize the relationship between self-regulation and substance use in the high school years, Hoyle said. Among other projects, C-StARR scholars will use brain imaging data to enhance existing research. 

"By adding brain imaging data, they can look at particular places in the brain that we know are involved in self-control," Hoyle said.

A key role of C-StARR will be to enhance existing research efforts. In addition to Hoyle, C-StARR's leadership team includes Kenneth Dodge, William McDougall Professor of Public Policy and director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, and E. Jane Costello, an epidemiologist and the center's associate director for research. Dodge will direct C-StARR's data projects, while Costello will coordinate efforts to incorporate biological approaches, such as the study of genetic markers, into existing behavioral research projects. 

C-StARR will build on the work of a previous Duke organization, the Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Center, and continues the strong relationship between NIDA and the Center for Child and Family Policy, which has supported the transdisciplinary center's work for the past decade.

C-StARR plans a guest speaker series starting in the spring of 2014. Future plans call for a conference on the value of self-regulation in adolescence, and how to promote it. Going forward, C-StARR also plans to offer competitive grants for Duke faculty.