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Grant will expand look at self-regulation's impact on teen use

July 5, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An academic center where research efforts recently have focused on the role of self-regulation skills in youths’ decision-making about substances has received a substantial federal grant that will intensify a number of research efforts.

Duke University is using the five-year, $6.7 million National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) grant to establish the Center for the Study of Adolescent Risk and Resilience (C-StARR), which will explore both biological and behavioral links to teen drinking and drug use. The extent of young people’s ability to delay gratification and consider the long-term consequences of actions plays an important role in their capacity to resist use of substances in their formative years, explains Rick Hoyle, an associate director of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy.

“If we know that self-regulation is critical, there are interventions we can develop to identify deficits and to teach self-regulation skills,” says Hoyle, a professor of psychology and neuroscience.

While about one-quarter of the NIDA funding may be earmarked for new research efforts, Hoyle says the majority of the grant will enhance existing research projects, such as by adding a brain imaging component to a study. He cited, as an example of an ongoing project that will be enhanced in this way, a federally funded study that is exploring parenting techniques and their effects across cultures around the world.

C-StARR intends to build on the work of Duke’s former Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Center. Initiatives that are in the works include a guest speaker series beginning next spring and a possible conference on the topic of self-regulation in adolescence.

There are a number of ways in which the neurological underpinnings that control executive functioning can become compromised, and substance use certainly is one of those. When self-regulation skills are lacking for whatever reason, a number of functions become more difficult, from academic performance to avoidance of risk behaviors. C-StARR will focus on the relationship between self-regulation and substance use among high school students.

Hoyle added that the Duke centers for adolescent research have become an important training site for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are being groomed to become part of the next generation of substance abuse-focused researchers.

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