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A Tour of The Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA)

A Tour of The Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA)

On occasion, this column highlights an addiction research center in the country. The idea is to pass on practical clinical information generated from such programs to addiction professionals. This time we highlight The Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA), arguably one of the most important addiction research programs in the country today. It is located at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque, NM. It was founded in 1989 by Bill Miller, Philip May, and Gill Woodall and celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in November of 2014. CASAA has been under the direction of Barbara S. McCrady, PhD, a distinguished professor of psychology since 2007. In addition to her, a number of UNM faculty members conduct research at CASAA on a full- or part-time basis. The program also has close to 100 staff and students who examine a wide range of important topics for addiction professionals who want to stay current in our field. 


The CASAA Web Page


The way to get a handle on all the things CASAA offers is to visit its web page at http://casaa.unm.edu. Once you arrive at the site you will see a drop-down menu on the left. It consists of the several main items. We review just a handful below. 


The CASAA Mission


The fundamental mission of CASAA is to reduce suffering caused by substance use and other addictive behaviors by generating high quality prevention and treatment research. According to their mission statement they will not settle for anything less than the highest standards of scientific integrity in their research and applied programs. In addition, attention is given to human diversity that strengthens their science and makes it applicable to larger segments of society. They are committed to sharing the knowledge they generate with fellow scientists, practitioners, and individuals who are directly impacted by substance use. 


Clinical Trials Network


CASAA is affiliated with the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (CTN). This is a national organization that provides a connection between the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and various treatment researchers and community-based service providers in the country. The basic idea is to develop, validate, and deliver new treatment options that include behavioral, pharmacological, and integrated interventions to you, the practitioner. 


Scan down to the middle of the page and take a little time to go through the “Recent Studies” sections that are highlighted in red. Here you can review a number of practical research abstracts. As an example, the study designated “NIDA-CTN-0013” found that brief motivational enhancement therapy (MET), compared to standard treatment, improved treatment engagement with drug and alcohol abusing pregnant women. Key features of MET such as a focus on developing rapport, exploring pros and cons of using substances, developing a change plan to strengthen a commitment to change, and reviewing the participant’s feedback on the costs of substance use with the status of the subject’s pregnancy were related with the better treatment and engagement with this sample. 


The research of Scott Tonigan, PhD, and Theresa Moyers, PhD, need to be highlighted. Tonigan for his decades of AA research, which has revealed among other things that having a sponsor and elements of spirituality adds to the recovery process. Moyers for her work in finding that change talk with clients predicts improvements in the recovery process. Both researchers can be found on the CASAA web site should you wish more information. All these results, and more, suggest that you consider utilizing such findings in your daily work. 




This might be one of more useful and practical menus on CASAA’s website. Each semester I introduce my students to this menu and remind participants in my workshops to visit and employ the wealth of information that is readily available here. 


Here there are several sub-menus. I suggest you first take a look at the “Assessment Instruments” menu. Here you will find over forty brief clinical tests that you can select, download, and administer in a research project of your own, or to your clients. Appropriate tests always provide quantitative information about your clients to confirm your clinical intuition or uncover client variables you may not have perceived. Some of the tests include: the good ol’ SOCRATES or The Stages of Change Readiness and Treatment Eagerness Scale. This brief test, which comes in a variety of editions, is designed to assess readiness for change for alcohol or drug problems. The SOCRATES comes with an easy scoring form, and will yield scores in the areas of recognition, ambivalence, and taking steps. Once you know your client’s scores you can adjust your treatment accordingly. Another test is called the Twelve Step Participation Questionnaire, and it will provide useful information about your client’s Twelve Step attendance over time. Then there is the Readiness Ruler by which you can assess the readiness of a client to make some change. Another is the Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire that will provide some measure of a client’s alcohol severity. There are even tests to measure a client’s assessment of treatment called What I Got from Treatment and something to be administered prior to treatment called What I Want From Treatment. This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Any good addiction counselor really needs to visit this particular section.


In this Downloads section is another segment called “Coding Instruments.” It offers a number of instruments to measure a variety of variables that pertain to treatment fidelity and quality of motivational interviewing (MI). You can also download or order a number of detailed MI manuals for those of you who wish to deepen your understanding of this clinical intervention. The really nice thing about all this available information is that’s it’s free. Some authors do, however, ask you to contact them if you decide to utilize one of their tests.


Next is the “Research Training” menu. Should some of you be interested in getting your research foot in the door as a novice, or be at the pre- or postdoctoral level, or refine your research skills as a mid- to senior level scientist, then this section deserves a look. There are possibilities to work with a research mentor, conduct your own independent research, gain assistance with getting your work published in a peer-reviewed journal, attend classes on grant writing, to name just a few of the options. 


CASAA staff members have extensive expertise in research design and implementation, project management, program evaluation, data collection and management, and data analysis. In addition, the CASAA investigators are affiliated with the Departments of Psychology, Sociology, Communication and Journalism, Economics, and Psychiatry at UNM, and are nationwide leaders in Twelve Step research; research on MI and the community reinforcement approach (CRA); family-involved treatment models; training and dissemination research; development of instruments; studies of mechanisms of change; clinical research in special populations, particularly women, Hispanics, and American Indians; research on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; and research on methods to reduce harm from risky drinking. CASAA is also the Regional Research and Training Center for the Southwest Node within NIDA’s Clinical Trials Network, organized to conduct clinical trials of state-of-the-art treatment methods for drug abuse and dependence. It has secured number of research grants from varied sources such as the NIH and other federal agencies and private foundations.


Support at the Personal Level


The CASAA site even has a “Looking for Help” section where any individual can easily access and seek answers to questions such as: 


  • Do I have a drug problem? 
  • What kinds of treatment are effective? 
  • How can I help a family member or friend with a drinking problem? 
  • How can I help my teenager? 


There are even links to finding a treatment program in your state. 


In Sum

Any addiction professional worth his or her salt needs to be familiar with this addiction research center. You will acquire useful clinical information on recent research that covers a number of addiction areas, have access to test instrument downloads, and for the adventurous of you perhaps carve out a career in addiction research. 


Take a look.