Current Projects

Grant-Funded Lab Projects

Combining Varenicline and Naltrexone for Smoking Cessation and Drinking Reduction
There is a strong positive association between cigarette smoking and alcohol use. It is estimated that approximately 20-25% of current smokers are also heavy drinkers. Greater alcohol use is associated with decreased odds of smoking cessation and it is estimated that smokers are 4 times more likely to experience a smoking lapse during drinking episodes. Despite these data, there are no available treatments tailored to heavy drinking smokers, a sizeable and treatment-resistant sub-group. This proposal seeks to address this gap in the literature by conducting a double-blind, randomized clinical trial using three group medication design consisting of VAR alone (1 mg twice daily), NTX alone ( 50 mg once daily), and the combination of VAR (1 mg twice daily) + NTX (50 mg once daily) for smoking cessation and alcohol use reduction in a sample of heavy drinking daily smokers (i.e., individuals who smoke ≥ 10 cigarettes/day and who meet NIAAA guidelines for heavy drinking).The PI has recently completed a laboratory trial with non-treatment seeking heavy drinking which found that the combination of VAR + NTX was superior to monotherapy and to placebo in attenuating nicotine- and alcohol-induced reward during alcohol and cigarette administration in the lab. Further, the combination group significantly reduced cigarette and alcohol consumption during the active medication period, as compared to placebo. Based on the preliminary evidence from our human laboratory trial, this proposal extends these findings to treatment seeking populations by testing the combination of VAR and NTX for smoking cessation among heavy drinking smokers. A total of 411 treatment-seeking heavy drinking smokers will be randomized to (1) VAR only, (2) NTX only, or (3) VAR + NTX. Medication will be titrated over a 14-day period and all participants will receive individual counseling for smoking and drinking and will complete the laboratory testing session prior to the quit day. Smoking abstinence, verified by carbon monoxide (CO) levels and alcohol consumption will be measured at 2, 8, 12, 16, and 26 weeks after quit date. This study will test whether VAR + NTX result in higher rates of point prevalence smoking abstinence at 2, 8, 12, 16, and 26 weeks compared to monotherapy. It will also examine the effects of medication on alcohol use. The secondary aims are to test mechanisms of pharmacotherapy response by examining laboratory markers of nicotine and alcohol response as predictors of treatment outcome. Building upon our previous work, these aims will elucidate the combination of VAR + NTX is superior to monotherapy for alcohol use and smoking cessation in heavy drinking smokers. Click here to participate.


Comparing Alcohol Cue Reactivity in Treatment Seekers vs. Non-Treatment Seekers with AUD. 
This study consists of a comparison of treatment-seekers vs. non-treatment seekers for AUD on alcohol cue-reactivity in the laboratory, seeking to bridge the behavioral pharmacology and clinical trials approaches to treatment development by elucidating meaningful differences between treatment-seekers and non-treatment seekers. Recent research from our laboratory and others have argued that the lack of consilience between behavioral pharmacology studies and clinical trials may be due to sample differences. Findings from human laboratory studies do not consistently and reliably translate to clinical trials outcomes. Although reasons for these discrepancies remain unknown, one possibility is that treatment-seeking individuals respond differently to medications compared to non-treatment seeking individuals. This hypothesis is supported by the nicotine and tobacco literature which suggests that motivation to quit smoking significantly influences the effect of smoking cessation medications, such that, for example, nicotine replacement therapy (i.e., nicotine patch) increased abstinence in treatment seekers but had no significant effect in smokers not seeking treatment. To elucidate the differences between treatment-seekers and non-treatment seekers with current AUD, this study will compare these groups on alcohol cue reactivity in the laboratory while controlling for AUD severity. Consistent with the literature on medications screening for smoking cessation, this study will test the hypothesis that treatment-seekers will display higher levels of alcohol cue-reactivity compared to non-treatment seekers, over and above the effects of AUD severity.


UCLA Psychology Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Clinic
Alcohol problems are highly prevalent among adults in the U.S. Specifically, twenty-five percent of adults in the U.S. report either currently having alcohol-related problems or drinking patterns that put them at risk for developing problems. Further, only 1 in 5 individuals with alcohol problems seek treatment and the available treatments are often not informed by science. In order to address the service needs of our community and to provide a training opportunity for advanced doctoral students in clinical psychology at UCLA, we propose to develop an outpatient alcoholism clinic providing evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy for individuals with alcohol problems. In keeping with our service, training, and research missions, this clinical protocol will combine a research component with evidence-based practices. Specifically, participants will be asked to complete an alcohol cue-reactivity testing session at the end of their intake session and will discuss their reactions to alcohol cues with the therapist. Participants will be asked to repeat the alcohol cue-reactivity testing session after completing the 12-week CBT protocol. The CBT protocol will be derived from the Project MATCH Treatment Manual, which is an effective and well-disseminated evidence-based intervention for alcohol use disorder. Participants will complete a battery of assessments at the intake visit (30 minutes of assessments at intake) as well as weekly assessments immediately prior to their clinic visits (10-15 minutes of assessments each week), including a breathalyzer test, and random urine toxicology tests (one at intake and three random tests over the course of the 12-week treatment).