Chris Correia, Ph.D.

Drugs & Behavior Research Lab

This page gives an overview of some of our current or recently completed areas of interest.  Some of the projects are conducted by graduate students as a thesis or dissertation, or by undergraduates as an honors thesis.  Other projects are conducted in collaboration with colleagues from other universities. 


Contingency Management


     Contingency Management (CM) is a behavioral strategy that arranges specific and explicit consequences for targeted behaviors.  When applied to substance use, CM arranges consequences so that abstinence results in reinforcement and substance use results in a loss of reinforcement.  As a post-doctoral student, I helped conduct a series of studies that used CM to help methadone maintenance patients achieve brief periods of abstinence from cocaine and/or heroin.  The studies helped us answer some interesting basic questions about how various parameter of reinforcement impact the effectiveness of CM.


     Since coming to Auburn, our lab has been investigating the use of CM to reduce cigarette smoking among college students.  We have recently completed the first study experimentally testing the feasibility of using contingency management techniques to reduce cigarette smoking among college students.  The study was funded as a National Institute on Drug Abuse B/START grant (Behavioral Treatment for College Student Cigarette Use, R03 DA017076).  All of the primary dependent variables—number of CO readings at or below 8 ppm, average CO reading, self-reported number of cigarettes, and self-reported time since last cigarette—indicated that participants reduced their use of cigarettes during the intervention week, relative to both the pre-intervention and post-intervention baseline periods (Correia & Benson, 2004). 


     We are interested in continuing our CM research.  We recently submitted a follow-up grant to NIDA that, if funded, will allow us to continue investigating use of CM to reduce smoking among college students.  We are also working with Regina Bentley in the Auburn University School of Nursing on a protocol that would use CM to help pregnant women quit smoking.


National Alcohol Screening Day


     Since 1999, a combination of government, public, and private organization have been jointly sponsoring National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD).  The program is designed to raise public awareness about the negative health-related consequences of heavy drinking.  The NASD program includes an educational presentation, a written screening questionnaire, and an opportunity for participants to meet with health professionals.  Starting with the 2003 NASD, our my student and I  began augmenting these activities by giving at-risk drinkers the opportunity to have written feedback about their drinking mailed to them.  Feedback forms have been modeled after the Brief Alcohol Screening and Interventions for College Students.   


     As part of the 2003 NASD, our research team conducted a study to test the feasibility of using NASD as a platform for delivering personalized feedback forms (Benson, Ambrose, Mulfinger, & Correia, 2004).  In 2004, we sought to more formally test the effects of the providing NASD participants with personalized feedback.  Participants were randomly assigned by gender to either the personalized feedback group or a generic feedback group.  Both personalized and generic feedback was mailed to the participants approximately 24 hours after NASD, and participants were asked to return after 4 weeks for a follow-up session.  Although our study was limited by a small sample size, we obtained some interesting initial results.  From baseline to follow-up, participants in the personalized feedback group decreased the number of drinks consumed per week and the maximum number of drinks consumed on a single occasion. (Henslee et al., 2005). 


Substance Use and Alternative Reinforcers


     As a graduate student, I became very interested in applying behavior economics and other behavioral perspectives on choice behavior to questions about drug and alcohol use. These theories view behavior as arising within a broad environmental context of available reinforcers,  and the preference for alcohol related choices involve the availability and utilization of competing alternative reinforcers and the associated environmental constraints (Vuchinich & Tucker, 1996).  Data from a variety of studies indicate that high rates of alcohol use are most likely to in contexts devoid of substance-free sources of reinforcement, and alcohol use will generally decrease if access to alternative reinforcers is increased (Higgins, Heil, & Plebani-Lussier, 2003).  Our series of studies applying theories of behavioral choice to college student drinking in the natural environment has demonstrated that the frequency, quantity, and negative consequences of alcohol use are inversely related to the amount of reinforcement derived from drug-free activities (e.g., school work, relationships, employment; Correia, Carey, Simons, & Borsari, 2003; Correia, Carey, & Borsari, 2002; Correia, Simons, Carey, & Borsari, 1998); that increases in substance-free activities like exercise can lead to decreases in substance use (Correia, Benson, & Carey, 2005); and that reduced drinking following a brief motivational intervention is associated with an increased proportion of reinforcement being derived from substance-free activities (Murphy, Correia, Colby, & Vuchinich, 2005).


    Over the last few years, my students and I have been working with a  laboratory procedure designed to model the relationship between alcohol use and substance free alternatives.  A multiple choice procedure (MCP; Griffiths, Rush, & Puhala, 1996) has been developed to investigate the relationship between drug preferences and alternative reinforcers.  Within a MCP session, individuals make choices between a dose of a drug and escalating amounts of money, and then one of the choices is randomly selected and given to the participant.  The point at which the participant chooses the money over the drug is used as an index of the reinforcing value of that drug.  We recently completed two studies designed to test the validity of the MCP with college student drinkers.  Portions of the study were conducted as part of Carrie Little's undergraduate honors thesis and funded by an external grant from Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology.  In Study 1, undergraduates used a survey version of the MCP to make 120 discrete hypothetical choices between two amounts of alcohol and escalating amounts of money delivered immediately or after a one-week delay.  In Study 2, undergraduates completed a laboratory version of the MCP to make 120 discrete choices involving real alcohol and monetary payments.  Responses to both versions of the MCP were related to measures of alcohol use and varied as a function the delay associated with the money choice.  We are mid-way through a third study investigating MCP responses across a range of alcohol doses, and linking MCP responses to the availability of alternative sources of reinforcement available in the natural environment. 


Caffeine Administration


Motivational Models of Substance Use

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