Children's mental health, substance abuse association studied

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Research underway at Rutgers University-Camden seeks to examine links between children's mental health problems and alcohol, nicotine, and illegal drug use over time.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a highly prestigious Career Development Award to Naomi Marmorstein, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden, who will use the $649,503 grant to further her intensive research on how children's anxiety and depression may be associated with substance abuse throughout adulthood. According to the NIH, Marmorstein's award is part of an integrated program designed to foster the development of outstanding scientists and enable them to expand their potential to make important scientific contributions.

"Children can show symptoms of depression and anxiety at very young ages, and some youth smoke, drink, and use drugs as well. A better understanding of the associations between these problems will help us more effectively prevent and treat them. If we can get youth on a trajectory of healthy emotional and behavioral development, they are at reduced risk for psychiatric and substance abuse problems as adults," says Marmorstein.

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During the next five years, Marmorstein will receive specialized training on complex statistical techniques; collect her own data with child-appropriate questionnaires; and revaluate existing data with new research methodologies that allow for more fine-grained analyses of developmental trajectories over time. She also will seek to pinpoint crucial differences between types of internalizing disorders, like generalized anxiety and social anxiety, to examine whether these problems relate to substance abuse in different ways.

"We have known for a long time that some people who have depression or anxiety drink alcohol or use drugs to cope with those unpleasant feelings; this is called the 'self-medication' model of substance abuse. However, there is also some evidence that heavy substance use may predict internalizing disorders, rather than the other way around. It is time to apply the advances we have made in research methodologies in order to better understand these associations,' says Marmorstein.

The results of the Rutgers-Camden research could be used by those who work with at-risk children to create programs that help these vulnerable young clients as effectively as possible.

A graduate of Yale University and the University of Minnesota, Marmorstein joined the Rutgers-Camden faculty in 2001 and teaches a range of clinical psychology courses including abnormal psychology, developmental psychopathology, and theories of psychotherapy. She resides in Philadelphia.

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