B-Smart (Biobehavioral Substance Mechanisms And Related Treatments) Laboratory

Broadly, Dennis McChargue and the B-Smart lab members are interested in the psychological and biological mechanisms that explain substance use behaviors in a variety of populations as well as the related harm that results from substance use. Lastly, we are interested in applying these mechanistic findings to improve interventions for reducing harm or treating substance use disorders.


Mechanisms of Substance Use Behavior:

One such area the BSmart lab strives to understand include the potential mechanisms that promote the co-occurrence of substance use problems among those vulnerable to mental health conditions. Such mechanisms are potential targets for interventions. For instance, past lab members have investigated avoidance (e.g., emotional, experiential, behavioral and cognitive) as an explanatory mechanism for poor treatment outcomes among those with substance use disorders, finding that individuals who exhibit more avoidant coping strategies are less likely to successfully complete substance use treatment (Oakland, 2015). Current lab members are interested in examining the role of trauma and PTSD in substance use, given the high rate of comorbidity between PTSD and substance use disorders. Current projects are examining the effects of PTSD symptomology on substance use treatment outcomes, and have shown that emotional avoidance mediates this relationship, such that those who engage in higher levels of emotional avoidance tend to leave treatment earlier (Cranford & McChargue, in preparation). Current lab members have also begun to investigate the role of medication use in recovery from substance use disorders, finding that taking certain anti-depressants and stimulants during treatment at a housing facility significantly impacted rates of relapse and length of treatment (Tibbs & McChargue, in preparation). Relatedly, neurocognitive mechanisms of poor reinforcement learning have been investigated as mechanisms to explain continued substance use in college drinkers. These projects have highlighted that biological mechanisms that may impact a person’s pattern of and recovery from substance use. Other examples of processes that may help to explain these outcomes are behavioral avoidance, help-seeking behavior, conformity to toxic masculine norms, and self-medication, among others. Future directions for this line of research include investigating the role of these factors among a variety of populations, such as samples from community agencies as well as college student samples.

Mechanisms of Substance Use-Related Harms:

Sleep & Alcohol:

One area of research the BSmart Lab investigates is the role health related behaviors play into cognitive and academic functioning of college students, which may in turn affect dropout rates related to academic underachievement. Two of the most pervasive health behaviors displayed by undergraduates are alcohol consumption and poor sleep quality/quantity. Prior work in the lab has demonstrated a mediational effect of sleep disruption between alcohol use and decreased classroom performance (English, McChargue, & Tuliao, in preparation) when analyzing cross sectional data of college undergraduates. Further studies utilizing actigrahy to measure daily sleep patterns of college students have shown that increased alcohol use results in diminished sleep quality and quantity not only on the night of drinking, but disruptions in quality also carry over into the following night (English & McChargue, in preparartion). Future directions in this line of study plan to measure cognitive performance of students who binge drink and/or have disrupted sleep patterns, and possibly develop an intervention for students at risk of dropout or expulsion due to alcohol and sleep related behaviors.

Sexual Violence & Alcohol:

Another research area in the BSmart lab involves examining the intersection of substance use and sexual violence. Generally, the lab is interested in determining the mechanisms involved in alcohol-related sexual perpetration. To understand these mechanisms, the lab is currently conducting a substance administration study, investigating how neuropsychological variables and in-vivo alcohol exposure impact sexual decision making (measured by social cognitive performance and progression through a date rape vignette). Future directions intend to incorporate more neuropsychological and neurophysiological methods (e.g., Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) to further understand how brain function may be involved in sexual perpetration and may serve as a target for treatment for individuals with high risk for sexual perpetration.


Traumatic Brain Injury & Alcohol:

Lastly, the BSmart lab has begun to investigate the complex relationship between traumatic brain injury and alcohol use. Previous research reveals that individuals with alcohol use disorders are at increased risk for sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, the effects of pre-injury patterns of alcohol use on recovery of function, patterns of alcohol use after injury, and mechanisms (psychological, neurocognitive, and neurobiological) that may underlie the relationship between alcohol and TBI remains unclear. Thus, the BSmart lab has begun to explore the neurocognitive functioning in those with and without a history of TBI who also report various levels of alcohol use in a college sample. We plan to further extend this investigation to community samples and to integrate neuroimaging techniques to further understand the neurobiological mechanisms at play in the relationship between TBI and alcohol use.


Targets for Intervention:

Protective Behavioral Strategies for Alcohol Use

One area of research conducted by the BSmart Lab involves examining ways for college students to reduce harm associated with alcohol consumption. Broadly, these skills are termed Protective Behavioral Strategies (PBS). Prior work on PBS has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing harm associated with alcohol consumption among college students. In the BSmart lab, research on PBS has focused on increasing the use of these skills during high-risk drinking situations (i.e., football game days; Edwards, Kennedy, & McChargue, in preparation). In addition, the BSmart lab is currently involved in two multisite trials that a) seek to understand cultural influences on PBS uses as b) seeks to develop a better construct of PBS use. Future directions in this research area plan to further examine strategies to increase PBS use and to examine social acceptability of PBS use among college students in common drinking situations.


Alcohol Use and Sexual Decision Making

            Another area of research conducted by the BSmart Lab applies our experimental findings about alcohol use, sexual decision making, and related cognitive processes to an intervention in providing individualized feedback to college students regarding their perception of norms and risk for alcohol-related sexual violence perpetration. We hope to extend this work into the realm of neuroimaging in the future to better understand the biological mechanisms of alcohol-related sexual violence and to identify potential targets for intervention.