Addiction

Tobacco & Nicotine

Background

Tobacco smoking is one of the single most destructive and yet persistently popular pastimes of our era. Every year 695,000 Europeans die prematurely due to tobacco smoking and approximately 32 million Europeans in the 28 EU countries have been killed by smoking over the last 50 years. It is generally more difficult for an addicted smoker to abstain from smoking than it is for person addicted to methamphetamine, cannabis or methadone to stop using those substances. Indeed, most of the 28% of EU citizens who smoke tobacco would genuinely like to quit smoking but have so far been unable to except for short periods of time. Nonetheless, approximately 21% of the EU population have managed to successfully quit smoking and so it is possible, perhaps after a difficult learning process, to quit smoking.

Our Research

We are Interested in Comparing Current Smokers with Ex-smokers, Nicotine Vapers and Never-Smokers to Better Understand What Psychological, Neural and Genetic Factors are Involved in Tobacco Addiction.

We are therefore interested in understanding why some people are able to successfully cease nicotine use, and why others are not. One of the strongest risk factors for becoming a smoker is having close family members who smoke, particularly siblings. A large part of this risk is genetic, but shared friends and shared environments also have a substantial influence on whether only one, or both siblings will start smoking. Finding out what causes one sibling to become a smoker, and what stops the other sibling from following in their footsteps would give us some important clues about how we can help prevent adolescent smoking, and how we might be able to help smokers quit. Likewise, we would like to compare how smokers, nicotine vapers and ex-smoker more generally perform on various psychological tasks measuring skills related to addiction (and in some studies we will measure their brain activity during these tasks using harmless neuro-imaging techniques).

Quitting Smoking

Background

One of the most common reasons why smokers fail to quit smoking is that they underestimate the importance of seeking ongoing motivational support from both family/friends and from addiction specialists. The vast majority of smokers prefer to quit smoking without any such help; but doing so means that each attempt has a less than 5% chance of success. By seeking motivation support it is possible for a smoker to increase their chances of success by up to 600%.

Our Research

We are therefore also interested in meeting smokers who plan to quit smoking in the next 30 days (but haven’t yet). By examining how successfully these smokers quit smoking with or without various motivational supports we aim to develop systems for prescribing smokers only the motivational supports that best suit them.

This research aims to use harmless neuro-imaging techniques like electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRi), combined with genetic analyses, to improve how clinicians determine what motivational supports (if any) a given smoker requires during smoking-cessation. By combining these measurements with the results of various psychological measures related to tobacco addiction, we are seeking to discover new sub-types of tobacco addiction. In particular, we are interested in discovering what types of smokers are best suited (or not) to each of a variety of different well-established motivational supports for smoking-cessation.

Alcohol

Background

Early adulthood (18-25 years) is a critical period for the culmination of neurological and psychosocial maturation. Yet, this period often corresponds with a marked increase in alcohol misuse. Two endophenotypes – Impulsivity and reward processing – are well-characterized neural substrates that are central to our understanding of youth alcohol misuse. However, because alcohol misuse can be defined in broad, lose terms, detecting subtle and discrete processes underlying alcohol misuse can be difficult.

Accurately characterizing young alcohol misusers in terms of these endophenotypes would identify target brain systems for future psychosocial or pharmalogical intervention. This is important because youth alcohol misuse is associated with significant impairments in health, as well as social, educational and occupational functioning, and early alcohol use is predictive of dependence in adulthood.

Our Research

We welcome student alcohol-users to participate in our research, contributing towards a comprehensive account of various patterns of alcohol use in young people. Individuals complete a number of neuropsychological tasks, short questionnaires and electroencephalogram (EEG).

Goals

Our aim is to better understand the psychological and neural characteristics that are associated with alcohol misuse in young people. This work is carried out by PhD candidate Laura O’Halloran (under the supervision of Prof. Whelan).

Cannabis

Background

Cannabis is referred to by a number of names, such as Marijuana, Weed, Grass, Skunk, Resin, or by the names of specific strains of the plant such as Purple haze or Northern lights. Cannabis is by far the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused illicit drug. It accounts for the largest number of drug seizures in Ireland. According to a report published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, approximately 25% of the Irish population had engaged in cannabis use during their lifetime. Cannabis use has been connected to impairment to memory and inhibition, as well as an increase in impulsive behaviours.

Our Research

We are looking at the difference between cannabis users and non-users in order to identify behavioural patterns that may be associated with the drug’s use, and thus identify individuals that may be at risk of cannabis dependence or cannabis abuse.