Higgins Alcoholism and Addiction Research Program (HAARP)

Photo of Monsignor Higgins The Higgins Alcohol and Addiction Research Program (HAARP) at the University of South Florida was born to focus on society's epidemic of alcoholism and substance abuse. Through this program, we bring science to life and offer new options and hope to all persons suffering from addictions.

Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins has inspired us to examine our efforts to identify trends in neuropsychiatric diseases and to pursue new paths with a view to the future. Monsignor Higgins has shown his regard and support for our program by graciously endorsing it with his name.

HAARP is a program designed to study both clinical and basic neuroscience and the effects of alcohol and substance abuse on the central nervous system across the span of the life cycle. HAARP seeks to foster the development of translational research studies that will increase our scientific understanding of the causes of alcohol and drug addiction and their treatments.

The goals of HAARP are:

  • To understand the mechanisms and behavioral basis of alcoholism, alcohol abuse and drug abuse.
  • To develop technologies to identify alcoholics and individuals at risk for developing alcoholism or drug abuse because of genetic vulnerability.
  • To use advances in neuroscience and genetics to develop new therapies for the prevention and management of alcoholism, drug abuse and related neuropsychiatric disorders.

Clinical Programs

Finding out what is important to patients and their familites and making it happen counts most. This is HAARP's direction. Moreover, helping to protect our community through outreach and collaborative public/academic partnerships, we will create the best possible experiences throughout the Tampa Bay area offering:

  • comprehensive, multidisciplinary evaluations through the first-ever USF outpatient Division of Addiction Medicine inclusive of: 3-5 day evaluations through the Professional Health Services Program; blood drawing, DOT physicals and urine/hair testing for fitness; and outpatient detoxification services
  • motivational interviewing strategies to assist with eliciting behavioral change and helping people with addictions to explore and resolve conflicts and ambivalence

Educational Programs

Alcoholism and drug addiction create a growing number of clinical and ethical challenges. These challenges demand a knowledge base and clinical skill set not traditionally covered in medical education. We must ensure the success of the next generation of clinicians treating alcoholism and drug addiction in our communities. Efforts to date include:

  • established American College of Graduate Medical Education accredited program in addiction medicine to train resident physicians
  • recipient of NIH Ruth Kirschenstein postdoctoral fellow in neuropharmacology of addictions
  • founder of educational initiatives for physicians in Tampa Bay adapted from Vanderbilt University
  • motivational interviewing incorporated into the medical school curriculum to apply cognitive-behavioral techniques in typical circumstances encountered in primary care and addiction medicine with people that have alcohol, tobacco or other substance abuse problems.

Research Programs

Applying advanced techniques in the theory and clinical practice of treating alcoholism and chemical dependence will eventually help heal more patients. With new combinations of therapeutic agents and behavioral therapies, patients will stay healthier, avoid relapse, and improve the quality of their lives. Current research studies are based on evidence that:

  • individuals that begin to drink before age 14 are more than 4 times as likely to progress to addiction than those that begin at age 21
  • alterations in dopamine activity may be the brain's mediator of reward, addiction, abuse and dependence
  • differences in gene expression levels between people with various "use" patterns will help understand the underlying cause of addictions and how each group will respond to various treatments