Researchers Receive $1.45 Million Grant to Study Link Between Trauma and Drug Addiction in Women

By Holland Doran

Clint Kilts, Ph.D., director of the Helen L. Porter and James T. Dyke Brain Imaging Research Center at UAMS, is the lead investigator for the study.

The study seeks to understand how physical or emotional trauma in adolescent girls may alter brain function to result in risky drug use behaviors. The project will also study the relationship of brain function, childhood trauma and drug dependence in adult women to understand why young girls who have experienced some form of trauma are more likely to develop drug use disorders later in life.

The investigative team, which includes Andrew James, Ph.D., Joshua Cisler, Ph.D., and Teresa Kramer, Ph.D., will interview adolescent girls between the age of 13 and 16 who have been exposed to violent or traumatic events. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will study brain function in these girls during stressful and impulsive decision making. The team predicts that a history of trauma exposure will alter the brain response during decision making, leading to risky behaviors including drug use.

The study will also recruit women over the age of 18 who are drug dependent. These women will undergo the same interviews and MRI scans as the younger subjects. The researchers believe similarities in brain organization between the younger and older women will explain how risky behaviors may lead to chronic drug use and addiction.

“People who suffer from drug use disorders face seemingly insurmountable challenges to long-term drug abstinence aided by only partially effective treatments. A better future would involve prevention and early intervention for persons at risk for drug use disorders such that they escape the future burden of addiction,” said Kilts.

“The period of adolescence represents both a dynamic period of brain maturation and the time of initiation and development of drug use disorders. We are proud and honored to receive this NIDA grant funding to identify brain mechanisms of addiction risk related to the traumas of childhood maltreatment and adolescent assault exposure, having potentially problematic drug use, and being an adolescent. This new knowledge would guide the development of better preventive interventions to halt the addiction process.”

The research team is recruiting subjects for this study. Interested parties should contact Sonet Smitherman at (501) 526-8386 to learn more about the study. Financial compensation will be available to subjects who qualify for the study.

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report named UAMS Medical Center the state's Best Hospital; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide; and named six areas as high performing — COPD, colon cancer surgery, heart failure, hip replacement, knee replacement and lung cancer surgery. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and four dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's Hospital, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.