The Institute was established at VCU in 1993 to promote excellence in research and education on substance abuse. Nearly 50 faculty members from 11 different departments within the university comprise the Institute, enabling a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the complex problems associated with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.


The substance abuse research conducted by Institute faculty spans the disciplines of medicinal chemistry, molecular biology, pharmacology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, as well as clinical and services research on community-based treatment and prevention. A major focus of the Institute’s research is on the biological basis for the actions of drugs of abuse on the brain; significant contributions have been made to the study of cocaine, opiates, marijuana, alcohol, hallucinogens, tobacco, inhalants and ketamine/PCP. This research has been particularly valuable in providing the scientific basis for developing new drug abuse treatments. Other important areas of substance abuse research include the study of behavioral and genetic factors related to drug addiction, the evaluation of abuse liability of new medications, and the development and evaluation of new prevention and treatment models. Institute faculty also have made major contributions to the study of tobacco use and dependence in youth.

This multidisciplinary focus has enabled VCU to become one of the leading universities in the world in attracting research support for studies of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. In 2010, Institute faculty members generated $25 million in external funding from numerous federal, state and private sources. These sources included the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation and several pharmaceutical companies.


In collaboration with various VCU academic departments, the Institute has been a leader in developing several innovative educational initiatives. For example, beginning in 2006 with funding from the U.S. State Department and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Institute became one of 17 host universities for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. This program brings mid-career professionals from developing countries to the U.S. for 10 months of advanced leadership and technical training in their chosen field. In addition, the Institute has implemented an international Web-based Master’s program in addictions and admitted its first class in the Fall of 2008. The Institute continues to explore professional development opportunities for VCU faculty and community-based professionals and to train the next generation of addiction scientists and educators.


In addition to conducting a large amount of sponsored research, Institute faculty members are widely recognized for their scholarly contributions to the field of substance abuse. The Institute’s director, Robert L. Balster, Ph.D., serves as editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and, during a typical year, faculty members publish more than 160 books and scientific journal articles on drug and alcohol abuse. Four current faculty members are past presidents of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, the longest standing organization in the U.S. addressing problems of drug abuse and dependence. Individual faculty members also have received numerous awards from CPDD, including five recipients of the Nathan B. Eddy Memorial Award for outstanding research efforts, the Joseph Cochin Young Investigator Award for early career contributions, and the J. Michael Morrison Award for service to the profession.


The Institute is affiliated with several large research and knowledge-application efforts of national prominence. These include a research center grant and a pre- and postdoctoral training grant from NIDA. The Institute also has joined with faculty at Johns Hopkins University to be one of the first collaborating centers of NIDA’s Clinical Trials Network. This network of community-based treatment programs linked to regional universities conducts research on the effectiveness and feasibility of new science-based treatments for addictions. The Institute also contributes faculty for the Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health Research Scholars Program, the Academy of Mentors (part of VCU’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research) and the VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Cancer Control Program. In addition, VCU hosts the Virginia Health Practitioners Monitoring Program for assessment, treatment planning, referral and monitoring of impaired health practitioners in the commonwealth. Finally, the Institute serves as the coordinating center for the Virginia Youth Tobacco Projects, a statewide research effort addressing the causes and prevention of youth tobacco use, and it actively collaborates with the Mid-Atlantic Addictions Technology Transfer Center, also located at VCU.

The Institute has strong ties to other institutes and centers at VCU, including the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics and the Institute for Women’s Health. Key academic affiliations are with the Division of Addiction Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and the departments of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Psychology. These affiliations have helped the Institute recruit top scientists to VCU.