The Psychology of Substance Abuse
Jill Weeks (’15), a psychology major with a concentration in neuroscience, is using her Denison Education to study the causes of substance use disorders.
The recent graduate from Vermilion, Ohio is beginning a PhD program in neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, where she will be studying the reinforcing properties of nicotine and other addictive substances.
Weeks structured her experiences at Denison around her love for psychological science and empirical research. After completing an internship at the Cleveland VA Hospital, Weeks began a series of independent study projects under the supervision for Dr. Cody Brooks. Their research focused largely on applying learning theory to better understand relapse in addictions.
“I have always appreciated that Dr. Brooks has high expectations for his students, but is always sure to encourage and show concern for us,” Weeks said. “Every time I met with Dr. Brooks, he checked in about the rest of my life and my current ups and downs, as well as my research. He was really understanding and supportive, but not lax about the goals of our research, and I've thrived with that kind of mentorship. “
Weeks completed a senior research project entitled, Is the efficacy of D-cycloserine in extinction of an ethanol-seeking response dependent on timing of extinction? This project used rats as models to examine how alcohol and other drug relapse might occur in humans. Specifically, she examined how the timing of extinction and a certain drug, called an NMDA receptor agonist, affected alcohol “relapse” in the rats. “I felt a lot of satisfaction in being the sole person responsible for conducting the experiment. When I realized that I could run on my own, that made me feel great,” Weeks said.
Weeks worked closely with several other members of the psychology department. She recently published a paper on environmental psychology with Dr. Harry Heft, served as a neuroscience teaching assistant for Dr. Susan Kennedy, and was selected as a psychology department fellow during her senior year. She will begin graduate training this Fall.