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UH Opens Anxiety and Health Research Lab Substance Use Treatment ClinicClinical Research Lab Provides Free Evaluation and Treatment for Anxiety and Substance Use

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May 17, 2013-Houston-

More than 40 to 50 percent of the cigarettes in the United States are consumed by people with anxiety and other mental disorders, according to Michael J. Zvolensky Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Distinguished University Professor at the University of Houston (UH) and director of the new Anxiety and Health Research Laboratory – Substance Use Treatment Clinic (AHRL – SUTC). 

Zvolensky opened the AHRL-SUTC at UH to Zvolenskyprovide free, empirically based evaluation and treatment services to adults between18 and 65 years of age. Patients include those struggling with anxiety and substance useprimarily tobacco and marijuana. Several research studies are being conducted at AHRL-SUTC, which means that many individuals may qualify to participate in a study where they will receive top-of-the-line treatment at no cost.

“What we know from our research is that people who smoke often have anxiety and other mental disorders and vice versa,” said Zvolensky. “Existing treatment plans for smoking cessation have not addressed in any formal and meaningful way anxiety and stress disorders.”

Zvolensky’s integrated model of care with smoking cessation addresses health and the mind together. He includes traditional elements of what is known to be helpful for people to quit. These elements include:

  • education on tobacco use
  • identified high risk situations
  • developing an abstinence plan
  • offering nicotine replacement therapy
  • an anxiety and stress management component using group therapy.

He also incorporates tools incorporating Eastern philosophy and meditation techniques that focus on mindfulness and breathing techniques.

“We train up tolerance in discipline by using an exercise analogy. You wouldn’t just go out and run a marathon, you would train and prepare. In our sessions, we train up tolerance and discipline for difficult things – an emotional event, withdrawal or whatever the case may be and then practice,” he said.

“We recognized you can do a lot more before you are distressed.  Additionally, once you are in a situation where there’s a lot of difficult emotions going on, then you can usefully draw from acceptance strategies. It’s like when you are in the moment … a mindful state. When you are in that state, you are effective.” said Zvolensky.

The ultimate goal of Zvolensky’s research is for individuals to be smoke-free and not using tobacco. The second goal is reducing the amount of use, also known as harm reduction.

“You don’t have to view things as complete abstinence to be successful and that’s important in the case of tobacco in particular because even simple reductions let’s say from 20 to 10 or from 10 to five cigarettes a day could have a linear decrease in exposure to a lot of other negative outcomes associated,” said Zvolensky. “The second set of outcomes deals with reductions in anxiety, reductions in depression and importantly, I think on a human level an increase in the quality of life.”

A prominent researcher in health behaviors, Zvolensky has published more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and co-edited two books, “Distress Tolerance: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications,” and “Anxiety in Health Behaviors and Physical Illness.” He has been cited extensively for his research on the relationship between anxiety and addiction.  Zvolensky has received grants from the American Lung Association, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety with collaborators in Dallas (Southern Methodist University), Baton Rougue, Louisiana  (Louisiana State University) and Boston, Massachusetts (Harvard Medical School). He recently extended his work with the HIV/AIDS population to study how HIV/AIDS individuals interpret and handle distress over time and adapting his smoking-anxiety work to Spanish-speaking populations in North and South America.

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About the Anxiety and Health Research Laboratory-Substance Use Treatment Clinic (AHRL-SUTC)

The Anxiety and Health Research Laboratory-Substance Use Treatment Clinic (AHRL-SUTC) is a clinical research center in the department of psychology at the University of Houston dedicated to understanding the connection between anxiety and addiction. AHRL-SUTC specializes in the following behavior problems: panic attacks, panic disorder, trauma exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and excessive worry, tobacco use and dependence, problematic cannabis use, managing psychological well-being with chronic physical illness and counteracting sedentary behavior, as well as other high-risk behaviors. For more information about research opportunities and clinical services at AHRL-SUTC, please call 713-743-8056 or visit the AHRL-SUTC website

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 40,700 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country. For more information about UH, visit the university’s newsroom at

Categories: Research