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Lara A. Ray, Ph.D.

Ray PhotoLara A. Ray, Ph.D., ABPP, is an associate professor in the department of psychology and the Brain Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Ray recently won the 2014 RSA Young Investigator Award, presented at the Research Society on Alcoholism’s (RSA) annual meeting in Bellevue, Washington during June 2014.

Writer Sherry Wasilow interviewed Dr. Ray from her office at UCLA.


SW
: How would you describe your current research focus?

LAR:  My research focuses on what causes one to become dependent on alcohol, and also on developing treatments that are more effective at helping patients recover. I am especially interested in applying insights from animal models to clinical populations, and vice-versa, so that we can develop a more complete understanding of alcoholism as a brain disorder and in turn refine treatment options.

SW: How would you describe your current research focus?

LAR: My research focuses on what causes one to become dependent on alcohol, and also on developing treatments that are more effective at helping patients recover. I am especially interested in applying insights from animal models to clinical populations, and vice-versa, so that we can develop a more complete understanding of alcoholism as a brain disorder and in turn refine treatment options.

SW: How did you begin your work in the field of alcohol studies?

LAR: My first exposure to the field of alcoholism research was as a research assistant with the Consortium on Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) (http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/research/major-initiatives/collaborative-studies-genetics-alcoholism-coga-study). It was such an amazing opportunity to be able to conduct clinical interviews with patients suffering from alcoholism and their families. It gave me great respect for the wide range of consequences associated with this disorder and solidified my commitment to studying alcoholism during my doctorate. Ray pul quoteI have been fortunate to have wonderful mentors along the way, including senior scientists in the field who have provided informal mentoring and support at research meetings and beyond. I am most indebted to my graduate advisor, Dr. Kent Hutchison, who shared his passion for studying alcoholism and taught me the importance of “asking big questions” so that we can have a real impact in the field and ultimately use our research to improve lives.

SW: How have you gained personally from your research?

LAR: In addition to the initial exposure to families affected by alcoholism, I have been fortunate to see many more individuals and families during my clinical training and in my professional life. It is critical to me that I stay connected with clinical care as I continue to learn a great deal about the disorder from my patients. I also learn a lot about the realities of implementing research into clinical practice. I am so thankful for the opportunity to enter patients’ lives and to help them in their recovery journey, it is a great privilege to do that and it keeps me committed to addiction research and practice.

SW: What day-to-day applications do you think your research has for both clinicians and non-clinicians?

LAR: I hope that my research leads to direct clinical benefits. I have been actively involved in personalizing the use of naltrexone for alcoholism by using gene markers that may identify treatment responders. I am also active in medications development and my research helps elucidate the mechanisms by which treatments work. My recent work also focuses on understanding alcoholism as a progressive disorder given that the factors that lead a patient to start drinking may not be the same that help maintain drinking for long periods of time. Ultimately, I would like to contribute to the development of treatment models that are science-based and that include effective medications as well as behavioral therapies that more fully capture alcoholism as a brain disorder.

 

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