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About Our Research

The Youth and Family Research Program is currently conducting several exciting projects led by Drs. Brooke Molina and Sarah Pedersen.  Our team includes postdoctoral scholars, collaborating investigators from both inside and outside the University of Pittsburgh, undergraduate, graduate, and medical students, and project staff.  Overarching themes of our research include Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), substance use, and how individual and environmental factors contribute to these outcomes over time.

One of our goals is to characterize the lifelong functioning of children with ADHD through adolescence and adulthood.  We are following hundreds of children diagnosed with ADHD to study the course, and reasons for, differential outcomes associated with this commonly diagnosed condition that is now being studied worldwide.  Our research has informed the current standards for diagnosis of ADHD, the factors that are associated with variable outcome into adulthood, and the development of interventions designed to prevent, or treat, ADHD.  As part of this line of research, we also study vulnerability to problematic alcohol and other drug use for people with ADHD.  Our findings have contributed importantly to the understanding of risk for substance use in this population.  Recently we began working in the primary care environment with pediatricians and family medicine providers to test clinical practice strategies that may be used in the treatment of ADHD among teens and college students.  It is our hope that the results of these studies will continue to inform future treatment efforts and maximize beneficial outcomes for children and families affected by ADHD.

A separate line of our research is focused on understanding risk for alcohol and other substance use problems.  Specifically, we examine how people may differ in their experiences after consuming alcohol, we measure thoughts about these experiences, and we consider aspects of personality that may be influential.  We ultimately hope that our findings will lead to improved treatments.  Our research has highlighted the importance of examining understudied populations to decrease health disparities in substance-related outcomes for racial minorities.  Separately, our work has also sought to understand why certain clinical populations are at risk for substance use problems.  In addition to ADHD, we are interested in understanding why other clinical populations, such as people with borderline personality disorder, are at elevated risk for problematic substance use.  Understanding why people with certain psychiatric conditions experience a disproportionate amount of substance use problems should aid treatment and recovery for these individuals.

Across our projects, we incorporate cutting edge methodologies such as neuroimaging (fMRI), lab-based studies of behavior such as measuring experiences while sober and intoxicated, and real world assessments through the deployment of smartphone-based applications.

We have been fortunate to receive funding from a variety of sources to support our research.  Our studies are principally funded by federal agencies and has included the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke, the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and foundations (e.g., Alcohol Beverage Medical Research Foundation; Jewish Healthcare Foundation; Sy Sims Foundation; Klingenstein Foundation).  For those interested in contributing financially to our efforts, please contact Drs. Molina or Pedersen.