Biological Basis for Co-Occurrence of Substance Abuse and Other Psychiatric Disorders

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Bethesda North Marriott Hotel Conference Center, Bethesda, Maryland


United States

Meeting Summary

NIDA Organizer: Susan Volman, DBNBR, Jerry Frankenheim, DBNBR, Harold Gordon, DCNBR

Meeting Purpose and Intent:

The purpose of the meeting was to explore various approaches to understanding the biological basis for comorbidity (also referred to as co-occurrence or dual diagnosis) between substance abuse and other psychiatric disorders, with the ultimate goal of setting a research agenda. The workshop had the format of brief scientific presentations followed by extensive group discussion to:

  • Develop a blueprint for human experimental research to study the biological basis of comorbidity;
  • Develop a blueprint for neurobiological and behavioral research in animal models to study comorbidity; and
  • Identify disciplines and multidisciplinary cooperation that can best address questions of comorbidity -- genetics, nosology, imaging, pharmacology, and new methods to develop animal models.

For each discussion topic, the participants were asked to address advantages and limitations of the available approaches, models and methods.

Brief Discussion of Meeting Outcome:

One consensus of the workshop was that many cases of dual diagnosis may be, in fact, the manifestation of different symptoms resulting from the same biological cause. Therefore, research should focus on biomarkers and dimensional measures, especially those that can be made comparable for human and animal studies (as opposed to discrete, DSM-defined symptoms) to uncover underlying neurobiological and genetic differences that result in pathological behaviors. Such markers would include impulsivity, stress reactivity, sensory-motor gating, reward motivation, sleep and circadian rhythms, gene expression differences, electrophysiological measures, and many others.

The workshop participants also made recommendations about new technologies and methods that would be useful, and funding mechanisms that could further this research endeavor.


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