Nationwide, roughly one in five adult Americans has a chronic addictive disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People in Virginia have not been spared — the opioid addiction crisis was declared a statewide public health emergency in 2016.

The problem is everywhere, but solutions are hard to find.

For example, research has shown impulsivity in some people may contribute to tendencies to abuse drugs. Likewise, drug dependence and abuse could arise differently in men and women, suggesting the need for different prevention and treatment strategies.

For answers, Marilyn Carroll, a professor of psychiatry and leading addiction expert at the University of Minnesota, turns to the animal kingdom.

Drawing on cues from animal behavior, her free public presentation, “Understanding, Treating, and Preventing Addiction: What Would Animals Do?” will be presented through the Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke, Virginia, on April 25.

“Dr. Carroll’s research has provided important insights into brain mechanisms that underlie addiction and has shown a light on a path forward to begin to identify rational mechanistic approaches to potentially treating these devastating disorders,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

The institute’s Addiction Recovery Research Center studies how impaired decision-making and working memory contributes to addictive behaviors and how this understanding can be deployed to develop effective approaches to recovery from addiction and substance abuse. Led by Warren Bickel, a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, the center develops clinical interventions designed to help people establish healthy cognitive function. Carroll and Bickel have collaborated on past behavioral economic studies of impulsive drug use, where they compared her insights from animals to Bickel’s studies with people. 

Over the past 44 years, Carroll’s trailblazing research has led to novel discoveries related to how drug addiction varies in males and females. Her lab was the first to begin studying drug abuse in both males and females in the 1990s, leading to the discovery that while estrogen is associated with increased drug use, progesterone decreases drug use.

With more than 250 published research papers, her work has been continuously funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health for more than 40 years. Carroll’s research has explored many facets of addiction and recovery, including impulse control and behavioral economics, the relationship between food and drug addiction, and how hormones and genetics influence drug addiction.

In recognition of her research advances and her leadership in the field, Carroll has received a prestigious MERIT Award from NIDA, the University of Minnesota’s Academy for Excellence in Health Research Award, and the University of Minnesota’s President’s Award for Outstanding Service. Carroll is an elected fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence.

A welcoming reception will begin at 5 p.m. April 25 in the VTC Café, followed by the hour-long lecture at 5:30 p.m. Carroll’s presentation will also be webcast on the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute website.

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