LAWRENCE — For the most part, researchers have treated violent aggression and substance abuse as two separate conditions.
But not surprisingly, the two disorders often exist concurrently in individuals, making it hard to determine if and how the two are related, and therefore how to treat them. Further complicating matters, the two disorders are often approached differently by neurobiologists than by psychologists.
With that in mind, a team of University of Kansas researchers has established a consortium to study the link between violent aggression and substance abuse, and to do so in a way that brings together research from neurobiology, psychology and other disciplines.
The Consortium for Translational Research on Aggression and Drug Abuse and Dependence (ConTRADA) includes scholars from several KU units with expertise in aggression, addiction and genetics. Their goal is to investigate the biological and psychological causes that link violent aggression and substance abuse, and to translate their research findings into better treatment options.
“The link between aggression and substance abuse is an indicator of poor prognosis for both conditions,” said Marco Bortolato, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology and ConTRADA co-director. “So the identification of the neurobiological and psychological underpinnings of this link is crucial to develop better treatments. Aggression and substance abuse may share many underlying mechanisms. For example, impulsivity, dis-inhibition and poor decision-making are hallmark personality traits in substance abusers with violent behaviors.”
ConTRADA is funded by a three-year KU Strategic Initiative Grant and will be the first multidisciplinary network in the country for studying how and why pathological impulsive aggression and substance abuse disorders exist concurrently but independently in individuals. Bortolato will team with ConTRADA co-director Paula Fite, assistant professor in the departments of Applied Behavioral Science and Psychology, along with Merlin Butler, professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at KU Medical Center; Erik Lundquist, professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences; and Ann Manzardo, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.
As part of the project, ConTRADA will host a weekly lecture series at 3 p.m. Tuesdays in 3020 Malott Hall through the end of the semester. The series kicks off Tuesday, April 15, with Fite delivering a talk titled “Subtypes of Aggression in Childhood and Adolescence from a Psychological Standpoint.” The lectures are designed to both educate the KU community and recruit researchers from other disciplines who are working on aggression- and substance abuse-related topics to join the consortium.
Violent aggression disorders account for 60 percent of the 1.5 million violent crimes committed each year in the United States, while alcohol and cannabis are among the most commonly abused substances in the country.
“The social and economic consequences of these disorders are huge,” Fite said. “That’s why it’s so important that we better understand them and how they are interrelated so we can develop better treatments.”