RTI International to Study Link between Sleep Disorders, Drug Abuse in Adolescents

BALTIMORE, Md. – In an effort to improve methods of prevention and treatment, researchers at RTI International will conduct a study to examine mechanisms underlying the relationship between sleep problems and propensity for drug and alcohol use in adolescents.

The $3.2 million study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse will take a closer look at how sleep disruptions, common in adolescence but often exacerbated by exposure to prolonged stress, impacts drug abuse risk, intractability to interventions and proneness to relapse.

The study will continue to collect data on more than 500 adolescents who have been tested in a previous study since they were between 11 and 13 years old.  This study will prolong testing through early adulthood, a period of time when pathways of drug use become increasingly clear, and consequences of use are measurable.

“We have a unique opportunity to understand the role sleep disturbances play in the initiation and escalation of drug abuse in adolescents,” said Diana Fishbein, Ph.D., a senior fellow in behavioral neuroscience at RTI International.  “If sleep problems in childhood indeed increase the probability of onset of drug use, the underlying causes of sleep problems in children and adolescents would have significant preventive long-term implications.”

Using tools such as sleep logs, sleep actigraphy, diurnal cortisol releases, and parent questionnaires, researchers will gauge the sleep quality of participants over a 28-month period.  

Researchers will also conduct an array of neurocognitive and emotional tasks, psychological and psychiatric tests, and experiential, contextual and background interviews to better understand other factors thought to interact or exacerbate sleep programs and drug use.

The study will also look at sex differences and pubertal development as sleep problems are historically more predictive of drug abuse initiation in boys than girls.

teenage girl pressing snooze button on her alarm clock

Highlights

  • Researchers at RTI will examine mechanisms underlying the relationship between sleep problems and propensity for drug and alcohol use in adolescents
  • The study will look at how sleep disruptions impact drug abuse risk, intractability to interventions, and proneness to relapse
  • The study will also look at sex differences as sleep problems are historically more predictive of drug abuse initiation in boys than girls