Millions of people with addiction problems turn to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and other groups for help. Yet, as psychologists well know, an approach that works for one person might be a failure for another.
Helping people find the treatment that works best for their individual needs is a top priority for incoming Psychology of Addictive Behaviors editor Stephen Maisto, PhD, a Syracuse University psychology professor and veteran substance abuse researcher and clinician. His goal is to make research about self-help groups more available to the public so that people can make better decisions about which treatments to pursue.
One way could be devoting an entire issue to self-help groups, Maisto says.
Finding effective addiction treatments is a critical need for society, says Maisto, pointing to National Institute on Drug Abuse studies that peg the economic cost of alcohol and drug abuse in the United States at more than $276 billion per year.
But even more important is the human toll, Maisto says. "These studies don't provide the human cost to the individual life span, or how it affects spouses, children, friends, siblings," he explains.
The journal, which publishes research on alcohol dependence, substance abuse, eating disorders, tobacco addiction and gambling, is growing in prestige and popularity, with 257 manuscripts submitted last year, more than double the total from 1999.
Another priority for Maisto is setting up a mentoring network for junior researchers.
When he launched his own research career at Vanderbilt University, Maisto says he was lucky to work with such experts as Mark Sobell, PhD, and Linda Carter Sobell, PhD. That was the turning point of his career, he says. To help today's junior researchers, Maisto plans to informally organize a network of midcareer to senior researchers who can guide up-and-coming colleagues.
"It's a fairly neglected area of our field, and too much gets left to chance," he says.
As a researcher, Maisto's work has two main tracks, including clinical research into assessments and interventions for problems with alcohol and other drugs, and in the last 10 years, the effect of alcohol use on sexual risk-taking behaviors and HIV transmission. Maisto, who is licensed as a clinical psychologist in Rhode Island and New York, is quick to acknowledge how his clinical experience informs his research.
"I've always been very impressed by how important it was for clinical research to inform interventions or clinical practice, and vice versa," he says.