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The Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs at MUSC

Dr. Raymond F. Anton, Director of the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs
Raymond F. Anton, M.D., Director of the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs

Since 1995, the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs (CDAP) at MUSC’s Institute of Psychiatry has been one of approximately 15 centers in the nation designated by the National Institutes of Health as an Alcohol Research Center. The Charleston Alcohol Research Center embraces a multidisciplinary, integrative, and translational approach in studying risk factors as well as exploring basic biological mechanisms underlying the transition from social to heavy/dependent drinking.

Howard C. Becker, PhD. Director of the Charleston Alcohol Research Center
Howard. C Becker, PhD, Director of the Charleston Alcohol Research Center

According to Raymond F. Anton, M.D., Director of CDAP, Thurmond Wellness Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, “Integrated research means basic and clinical scientists working together on common ideas, projects, and mechanisms. It’s been a theme of our center all along.” Howard C. Becker, PhD, Director of the Charleston Alcohol Research Center and Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Neurosciences, works closely with clinical researchers, using animal models to evaluate novel medications for alcohol dependence. Dr. Becker’s research team studies how heavy alcohol use alters brain function and mechanisms that ultimately increase vulnerability to relapse. For example, the team is examining, in both rodent models and humans, whether the medication aripiprazole, which is approved for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can prevent the progression to heavy drinking and whether its effects on impulsivity might mediate its effectiveness.

Other CDAP research priorities include exploring the role of posttraumatic stress disorder or early childhood trauma in predisposing people to drink in times of stress. Dr. Anton’s team is pursuing both genetic and brain functional magnetic resonance imaging studies to determine whether a small genetic difference in the brain mu opiate receptor (present in 25% of the white population) can enhance alcohol effects and also predict response to naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist shown to be effective at reducing the frequency and severity of alcohol relapse. The ability to predict treatment response to naltrexone could revolutionize how alcoholism is treated and lead to FDA approval of a genetic test for this purpose.