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CDAP uses outreach to confront addiction

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations
Suzanne Thomas, Ph.D., lifted a dripping brain out of a bucket to the fascination of many of the fifth graders gathered at Whitesides Elementary School in Mount Pleasant to learn how alcohol and drugs can affect the brain.
Whitesides Elementary students react to seeing a brain shown by Dr. Suzanne Thomas, who was there as part of MUSC's outreach program called Just Say Know.

They filed past her table looking at the grooves and folds on the cortex, a few averting their eyes in revulsion. But whether they could stomach looking or not, they all had gotten the message—that the brain is an organ of the body affected in powerful ways by lifestyle choices. That makes Thomas, program director of the Just Say Know program of  the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs (CDAP), very happy.
“Research on addiction has resulted in remarkable new knowledge in the last 20 years—truly fascinating stuff. And yet, drug and alcohol prevention efforts in our schools have remained relatively unchanged during this time,” she said.
Raymond Anton, M.D., Distinguished University Professor and CDAP director, said that many people continue to believe that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a moral failing. Contrary to this popular belief, scientific research, especially in the last 10 years, has shown that addiction is definitely an acquired disease of the brain with genetic and environmental risk factors. Over time people lose control over their intake because of specific brain mechanisms are “hijacked” by alcohol or other addicting substances, he said.
This is an area of ongoing research at MUSC. Recognized internationally for its discovery of advanced treatment options, CDAP uses the latest tools, such as brain imaging, genetics, behavioral pharmacology and medication therapies to provide a greater understanding and better treatments for alcohol and substance abuse.
Dr. Suzanne Thomas uses motivational and scientific slides to teach children how to better safeguard their brains. 

A division within the Department of Psychiatry, CDAP oversees the Alcohol Research Center, which is one of only 15 alcohol research centers in the country funded by the National Institutes of Health, said Anton. It’s one of the few that focuses on medication development for treatment of alcoholism.
Anton sees the advances in addiction research as having power to lessen the stigma that poses a barrier to treatment.
“We need to let people know addiction is a brain adaptation to these substances and it is not a moral failing. We’re finding in neuroscience that there are brain mechanisms behind addictions and because of that people shouldn’t give up hope. It doesn’t absolve them from getting treatment, particularly if they’re harming people around them, but it doesn’t mean they’re no good and less worthy than others. It’s just that they have an illness.”
That’s the message Thomas is getting out as well, especially since research is finding that alcohol can damage the developing brains of adolescents and young adults, which are more susceptible to its effect than the developed brains of adults. The outreach component is a way to take what’s being learned in the laboratory, and in clinical trials, and translate it to the community, said Thomas. She wants to see a shift from the fear-based tactics that have been used in the past to a more scientific approach.
“In the long run, I think fear-based tactics to discourage drug and alcohol use are not the best approach, and that’s the basis of our Just Say Know program. It tells students the whole truth—good and bad—about the effects of drugs and alcohol.”
These fMRI scans help researchers see the craving centers of the brain. Researchers are investigating how medications could affect or diminish brain activation, thus reducing cravings for those who suffer from alcoholism.

Research shows that before students graduate from high school, most will have tried drugs or alcohol. If they have only heard one side of the story—that drugs and alcohol are bad and can ruin their life—it’s difficult for them to reconcile how an experience that is quite likely pretty pleasurable socially or physically can be “all that bad,” she said. That’s why the outreach program explains to students how drugs and alcohol affect the brain, both in the short and long term.
The program, which has reached about 3,500 students since it started 10 years ago, will be expanded in the fall by partnering with MUSC Gives Back. Thomas will be training MUSC students to be volunteers, which will enable them to provide the program to more schools. It also is an excellent training tool for the medical students to learn more about research at the university, she said.

“This is a win-win situation—CDAP can accommodate more requests from local schools, and MUSC students get to give back to the community and inspire young minds.”
Thomas said that some of the most important discoveries about addiction have been made by MUSC faculty. “Our outreach efforts have one overarching goal—to explain to non-scientists how addiction research is advancing our understanding of a devastating disease. With our outreach efforts, I think we can, one person at a time, change how people view addiction and addiction treatment, and convince them how our research is critical for effectively preventing and treating addictive disorders.”
To learn more about CDAP’s current addiction research and ongoing clinical trials,  visit For information on Just Say Know, call 792-2727.

In the News
MUSC's Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs (CDAP) earned top marks for drug and alcohol abuse medical education in U.S. News Media Group’s 2010 edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools.
The ranking comes from the collaborative efforts of CDAP, the Division of Clinical Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry, and Addiction Neuroscience faculty in the Department of Neuroscience, which ranked MUSC in the top 10 academic institutions for its educational and training efforts in alcohol and substance abuse for 2011.
Dr. Raymond Anton, M.D., Distinguished University Professor
CDAP director

“We are honored to be among the nation’s top institutions that were selected as the best in training the next generation of addiction researchers and clinicians. This is a great honor for our well-recognized faculty and a tribute to their work, which attracts many of the brightest new trainees to initiate their careers here at MUSC under their mentorship.”

Friday, June 4, 2010

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