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Making Addiction a Preventable Disease

By Lisa Merkl

Problems with addiction, such as substance use, gambling and uncontrollable eating, typically first emerge during adolescence and young adulthood, often arising from early life experiences, with recovery requiring lifelong management. Addictive behaviors often set off a chain reaction of negative consequences at a human and financial level. People who suffer from addiction not only put themselves at risk for both physical diseases and mental illness, but also jeopardize their work and educational performance, as well as run the risk of incarceration. These behaviors contribute to significant health disparities across the nation, including Houston.

In late 2014, the University of Houston Department of Psychology established the Texas Research on Addiction Consortium (TRAC), with the goal of being the leader in providing science-based prevention, intervention and treatment to make addictive behaviors a preventable disease. Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, this cross-disciplinary team of researchers is interested in the epigenetic, biochemical, neuropsychological, behavioral, social and environmental factors that impact the development and perpetuation of addiction. 

TRAC’s faculty are not only researchers, but also educators who can sculpt the training of future addiction scientists, as well as psychologists, counselors, social workers, nurses and teachers, to become proficient in that area. The ultimate goal is to develop, evaluate and translate this research into effective intervention strategies, moving it from the bench to the community. In the end, this collaborative approach will lead to new ways of understanding and improving the daily lives of people living with addictions.

Although a great deal of effort and funding is devoted to treatment in the U.S., many current interventions don’t work long term. With a goal of breaking down barriers through this cross-disciplinary approach to identify effective treatments, TRAC aims to translate evidence-based principles from research into personalized interventions. Eventually, the researchers envision their prevention program being duplicated across the nation. 

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