Jonathon Erlen’s Latest Dissertation Abstracts

Editor’s Note: Readers of Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society’s journal, are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of recent dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Until recently, Dr. Erlen, the History of Medicine Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, curated and published his dissertation lists in the print edition of the journal. In August of 2014, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society moved the publication of Erlen’s bibliography to the blog. Below, we highlight a few of the most intriguing entries from Erlen’s selections from the ProQuest index. 

The War on Drugs in the American states: Variations in sentencing policies over time

Author: Neill, Katharine Anna

Department: Criminology/Public Policy

Institution: Old Dominion University

Advisor: Morris, John C.

Abstract: Since the 1970s US drug policy has focused on harsh punishments for drug offenders. A wealth of research indicates that the social and political context of the drug policy discourse is a greater factor in determining drug policy than rising rates of drug use or drug-related crime. While considerable research has examined the factors driving federal drug policy, fewer studies have examined drug policy at the state level. This dissertation studies state drug sentencing policy to determine what factors may explain variation across states. By focusing on the period from 1975 to 2002, this study concentrates on policies passed during the War on Drugs era, which began in 1971 and has only recently shown signs of abating. A policy design framework is used to argue that the social constructions of drug offenders–the way in which they are perceived in society–determines the policies directed towards them, and that negative perceptions are likely to result in more punitive policy. This research also hypothesizes that several other factors are likely to influence punitive drug policy, including the desire to control threatening populations, a conservative political environment, and bureaucratic incentives to pursue drug crimes. Using panel data analysis, this study finds partial support for the premises that negative social constructions of drug offenders and bureaucratic incentives affect state drug sentencing policy.

The efficacy of substance abuse treatment, as regards patient gender, life stage, primary diagnosis, and level of care: A retrospective analysis

Author: Herman, Paul

Department: Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Institution: Capella University

Advisor: Kramer, Thomas

Abstract: Substance abuse treatment became formalized in the 1950’s, and the prevalent treatment approach became known as the “Minnesota Model”; it was designed to treat the adult, alcoholic male in an inpatient setting. In time, rehabilitation programs began to treat women, adolescents, those addicted to substances other than alcohol, and those treated in outpatient settings. However, the same treatment model has prevailed, and has been applied to other treatment settings than originally intended. The current research project studied the efficacy of substance abuse treatment when considering the variables of client gender – male or female, life stage – adult or adolescent, primary drug classification – alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, or opiates, and treatment setting – Inpatient or Intensive Outpatient. Efficacy was operationally defined as the client completing recommended treatment, and the research questions included examining which of the variables mentioned was associated with treatment completion rates. The chi-square test of independence was used to determine if there was a relationship between the independent variables mentioned and treatment completion. Analysis showed a significant relationship in every instance tested, though not always what was expected: adults completed treatment significantly more than adolescents – expected; the model was designed for adults; males completed treatment significantly more than females – expected; the model was designed for males; opiate addicts completed treatment significantly more than other drug classifications – unexpected; the model was designed for alcoholics; those treated in inpatient settings completed treatment significantly more than those treated in Intensive Outpatient – expected; the model was designed for Inpatient treatment. The significance of the study was underscored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2008)-based statement that substance abuse treatment spending would reach $35 billion this year, thus suggesting that studying the efficacy of substance abuse treatment is a worthwhile endeavor (Levit et al, 2008).

The relationship between university student Facebook usage and alcohol consumption

Author: Crow, Brent M.

Department: Health Education

Institution: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Advisor: Brown, Stephen

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to investigate whether college students’ use of the social networking site Facebook influenced their alcohol consumption. In particular, the relationship between students’ alcohol use and exposure to alcohol-related content through various features or activities on Facebook was examined. An additional focus was to identify whether certain variables increased the chances of predicting students’ alcohol and Facebook use. The study employed a non-experimental, quantitative, descriptive and correlational research design to examine the relationship between students’ alcohol consumption, Facebook use, and exposure to alcohol-related content through various applications or features on Facebook. The sample consisted of 502 undergraduate students enrolled in the university at the time of data collection. Data were obtained through the use of a survey instrument designed by the researcher, for the primary purpose of soliciting self reported rates of alcohol consumption, Facebook use, and exposure to alcohol-related content on Facebook. The results of this study indicate that student alcohol consumption and Facebook usage are on par with current research. No statistically significant correlations were found between Facebook usage, various features or activities on Facebook, and students’ consumption of alcohol.

The role of rapid dopamine signaling within the nucleus accumbens in natural and drug reward-seeking behaviors

Author: Cameron, Courtney Marie

Department: Psychology

Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Advisor: Carelli, Regina M.

Abstract: Learning about rewards and appropriately directing behaviors to obtain them is critical for survival. These processes are subserved by a distributed network of brain nuclei including the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and its dopaminergic input. In vivo electrophysiology studies have repeatedly provided evidence that NAc neurons encode goal-directed behaviors for both natural and drug rewards. Specifically, work from this laboratory has shown that subsets of NAc neurons exhibit largely differential, nonoverlapping firing patterns during operant responding for natural rewards (food, water, or sucrose) versus intravenous cocaine (Carelli et al., 2000; Carelli, 2002; Carelli & Wondolowski, 2003; Carelli & Wondolowski, 2006; Cameron & Carelli, 2012). Furthermore, the percentage of NAc neurons that encode goal-directed behaviors for cocaine is dramatically increased following 30 days of cocaine abstinence (Hollander & Carelli, 2005; Hollander & Carelli, 2007). While we have observed rapid dopamine (DA) signaling in the NAc during responding for natural (Roitman et al, 2004) and drug (Phillips et al., 2003) rewards on a timescale similar to NAc phasic cell firing, it is not known whether this DA signaling acts in a manner analogous to NAc phasic activity. The first set of experiments detailed in this dissertation used electrochemical recording techniques to measure rapid DA release in the NAc core during performance of two different tasks: a sucrose/cocaine or sucrose/food multiple schedule. This design allowed us to compare DA release dynamics in specific locations in the NAc during operant responding for two natural rewards, versus a natural reward and intravenous cocaine. These experiments revealed that, unlike our prior electrophysiology work, rapid DA release in the NAc was not reinforcer specific during performance of a sucrose/cocaine multiple schedule. In the second set of experiments, we used the same data set obtained from Aim 1 to compare basic shifts in pH in discrete locations in the NAc core and determine if aspects of this signaling differed during each phase of the sucrose/cocaine multiple schedule. Our findings revealed that although increases in pH were observed under both reinforcer conditions, the dynamics of this signaling were significantly different when animals responded for intravenous cocaine versus the natural reward, sucrose. The final set of experiments examined the effects of one month of cocaine abstinence on DA release and uptake dynamics in the NAc core. We found that a month of cocaine abstinence potentiated the peak concentration of electrically evoked DA in the NAc following an acute injection of cocaine. Taken together, the results of these studies indicate that DA signaling in the NAc is highly dynamic and can be influenced by many factors, including the type of reinforcer (natural or drug) being self-administered or the pattern of drug exposure (1 day versus 30 days of abstinence). Furthermore, rapid DA signaling does not interact with NAc cell firing in a simple manner, but instead differentially modulates neuronal activity depending on many factors including reward type, specific afferent-efferent projections, and ongoing behavior.