Our Research Interests

Cardiac Processing and Alcohol

 

A person’s ability to adapt to the world is a critical part of health and functioning. Alcohol changes this adaptability, modulating many physiological processes. We measure these changes experimentally to study different mechanisms underlying alcohol use behaviors.

 

 

  • During intoxication, the cardiovascular system prioritizes the signals that allow the body and the brain to communicate actively (low frequency oscillations) over high frequency oscillations that support “rest and digest.”

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Heart-Brain Interactions in Addiction

 
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The body conveys information to the brain, helping generate behavioral responses. We study interoception, the integration of physiological sensations in the brain, and how it participates in addictive behaviors. We study this across different domains of cardiac signaling:

  • Alcohol-induced changes in participants’ ability to feel their heart correlate with perceived alcohol effects and changes in mood. These changes also correlate with anticipated alcohol effects. The implication is that interoceptive experiences shape future expectancies.

  • By pairing emotional stimulus presentation to different phases of the cardiac cycle we were able to show that interoceptive signals support the perception of different emotions. We now study how alcohol administration influences this mechanism.

  • Changes in afferent cardiac signaling, as indexed through changes in 0.1Hz HRV shape alcohol cognitive biases. In participants at risk for alcohol use disorder, physiological changes in response to alcohol cues correlate with memories for those same stimuli.

  • We also examine if drinking alcohol or resonance breathing can modulate interoceptive signaling and emotion. This can in the future help shape novel therapeutic approaches.

Physiologically-Based Interventions for Addiction

 

We use slow paced breathing techniques that improve heart-brain communication as adjunct clinical tools to study how modulating cardiovascular processes can promote recovery in addiction. 

  • Resonance breathing trains participants to breathe at a slow pace (6 times/minute) to improve heart-brain communication.

  • We are currently examining the utility of a breathing-based iPhone app in improving clinical outcomes in women seeking treatment for substance use disorder and the psychophysiological correlates of such changes.

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6x / min

Alcohol & Cognition

 
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Alcohol and drug use can lead to neural damage, and this damage can often be mistaken for  “being difficult”, impeding quality treatment and long term recovery. In a series of papers, we show how neuropsychological  and cognitive deficits affect treatment seeking, treatment gains, and long-term recovery both directly and indirectly

 

  • Because the degree and persistence of alcohol-related cognitive impairment vary, we also argued for novel adjunctive interventions that help recognize cognitive dysfunction and provide alternatives to the cognitively-taxing strategies of current evidence-based practices.

 

Alcohol & Health

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Binge drinking, a lack of physical activity, insufficient sleep, and poor diet are part of modern life. A healthy human body is resilient to occasional stressors, but repetitive and overlapping stress leads to long-lasting wear and tear on the body. We call this phenomenon pile-up. 

 

  • Young college students have to cope with stressful academic and social environments.

  • “All nighters” and “binge drinking” are so common among university students that they have become part of the culturally normed college experience, despite being known to undermine academic performance as well as mental and physical health.

 

  • We are currently studying how extreme alcohol binge episodes affect the cardiovascular system when they are layered on chronic sleep deprivation.

 

  • We track daily students over two years using online survey tools to index health habits and ambulatory sleep measures to observe the impact of lifestyle habits on longitudinal cardiovascular health.

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