UNCW Psychology professors Raymond Pitts and Christine Hughes received a $446,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health to research how acute and chronic exposure to the prescription opioid oxycodone affect specific reward processes involved in impulsive and risky behavior.

Quite simply, psychoactive drugs change how individuals behave. Pitts explained that sometimes drug effects are favorable, as when certain drugs are given to help with anxiety or with attention/impulsive disorders. Sometimes drug effects are unfavorable, such as when they affect the ability to make effective decisions.

“Many of our decisions involve weighing the values of the outcomes,” Pitts said. “Impulsive decisions occur when we choose a smaller reward that we receive right away over a larger reward that we will receive later,” he said. “Sometimes we take the smaller, sooner reward over the larger, later one, even when it may cost us in the long run. With impulsive decisions, the immediacy of the reward has a bigger impact on our choice than the size of the reward.”

The grant will fund research to examine how psychoactive drugs can change individuals’ choices by changing the impact of the immediacy and/or size of the reward.

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Originally published March 21, 2019.