NIH announces 11 awards funded across three Institutes

More than $11 million over three years will be used to support research exploring the use of social media to advance the scientific understanding, prevention, and treatment of substance use and addiction. The awards are funded through the Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (CRAN), an NIH consortium involving the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The consortium was established to integrate resources and expertise to advance research and improve public health outcomes related to the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive substances. NIAAA, NIDA, and NCI are components of the National Institutes of Health.

“These awards are the result of an active collaboration among the three institutes to develop innovative approaches that advance the science of substance use and addiction,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “We hope to learn more about how changing technologies affect interpersonal communications and factual knowledge about tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs, including the nonmedical use of prescription drugs.”

Interactive platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become important sources of public information, and are powerful tools to help scientists identify prevailing attitudes and myths and convey accurate information to the public about alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive substances. Researchers can analyze social media interactions to gain insights into patterns of use, risk factors, and behaviors associated with substance use. By providing a platform for communicating science-based, health-related messages, social media may also enhance screening, prevention, and treatment of substance use and addiction. To help address these needs, CRAN issued two funding opportunities to support research that leverages social media platforms to advance the scientific understanding of substance use or improve the treatment and prevention of behaviors related to substance use.

“The ubiquity and widespread use of social media underscores the need to address numerous questions regarding the intersection of social media with substance use and abuse, as well as its potential as a tool for preventing and treating substance abuse problems,” said NIAAA Director Dr. George Koob. “With these awards the CRAN collaboration is making an important investment that could impact the diverse health problems associated with the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive substances.”

“Social media has the potential to fill important gaps in our current understanding of tobacco, alcohol and drug use and to improve the efficacy of substance abuse interventions. For example, user-generated social media interactions can reveal important insights into substance use patterns and various social factors,” said Dr. Wen-ying (Sylvia) Chou, program director in NCI’s Health Communications and Informatics Research Branch and NCI’s program contact for the funding opportunities. “Social media platforms also have the potential to increase the effectiveness of substance use prevention and treatment efforts by providing technologically mediated solutions.”

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