Photo Credit: Chris Becerra

Here are some of the research projects that we are working on in HEAL. If you would like to be a participant in one of our studies or potentially join our lab please check out the Get Involved page. Make sure to refer to the Publications page to read original articles about each project.

Optimizing addiction interventions to address co-occuring substance use and problems 

We are conducting a series of studies to better understand how we can improve intervention outcomes for individuals who use multiple substances. While an individual may seek treatment for one substance, chances are that the individual also has experienced problematic use of another substance. A common example of this is the widespread cigarette use among individuals who drink heavily and may even have an alcohol use disorder. Importantly, using cigarettes and alcohol together can make it more difficult for an individual to quit either substance and using both substances is associated with greater negative health outcomes, like cancer.

To address this in HEAL, we are investigating why does cigarette smoking often literally go hand-in-hand with alcohol use? Furthermore, how might we be able to better help individuals address their drug use by taking into account how these multiple substances interact with each other?

Polysubstance use in sexual minority youth

In HEAL, we are also examining differences in substance use patterns and harms based on gender and sexuality. Importantly, sexual minority youth, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, have been shown to be at risk for using substances relative to heterosexual youth. This may be due to multiple factors, such as in response to stress associated with being a minority in a heteronormative culture. Presently, few interventions are available to address these processes that contribute to substance use among sexual minority youth.

To improve our ability to address sexual minority-related disparities in substance use, HEAL is conducting a number of studies to clarify the nature of drug use among sexual minority youth. These studies aim to clarify what is the context of drug use among sexual minority youth. For instance, are sexual minority youth using multiple substances together or alone? Are certain substance use patterns more closely linked to minority stress than others? Ultimately, this work is meant to inform intervention.

Religion and spirituality in sexual minority health

We are also conducting several studies examining the religious and spiritual experiences of sexual minority individuals. It is well documented that religious experience leads to positive mental and physical health outcomes in the general population and heterosexual samples. Previous studies have shown that the opposite can be true for sexual minority individuals -- religious experiences can lead to poorer mental and physical health outcomes in sexual minority samples. Very little is known about what specifically in the religious experience is leading to these poor health outcomes, and if any aspect of the religious experience has health benefits for sexual minority individuals.

In HEAL, we are examining what specifically about religion contributes to negative health outcomes like substance use. Furthermore, we are investigating what aspects of religion are associated with better mental and physical health in sexual minority individuals, and how to incorporate these into intervention in order to improve sexual minority wellbeing.