The Pelham Lab is housed at the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry since 2022.
We research externalizing spectrum psychopathology and substance use among children and adolescents.
Our core focus is understanding what we call the "basic technology" of parenting - how parenting changes youth behavior and promotes healthy outcomes.
Our work is supported by several funders:
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF)
California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC)
Canadian Institute on Health Research (CIHR)
UC San Diego Academic Senate
Below are just a few of the questions we are studying in ongoing projects.
How does parenting reduce problem behavior?
Hundreds of studies have shown that teens have better outcomes when their parents are warm and supportive, use more effective discipline, and regularly track their teens' location and activities.
However, our understanding of the association between problem behavior and parenting remains largely "black box." We lack the clear theory, rigorous tests of causality, and careful consideration of the timing of effects that is necessary to fully realize the potential of parenting as a mechanism of change to improve the lives of youth and their families.
With funding from NIDA, we are pursuing a more precise understanding of how parenting reduces risk for substance use and other problem behaviors by answering the following questions:
What are the mediating mechanisms that relate parenting to problem behavior?
What is the timescale of effects of parenting behavior - how quickly and for how long is risk of problem behavior reduced?
Which specific parenting behaviors are more or less important for driving youth outcomes?
We are investigating questions like these via both secondary data analysis of longitudinal studies, meta-analysis, and primary data collection.
Can we predict children's risk of problematic substance use during adolescence?
With funding from NIDA, we are trying to develop free, brief, practical screening instruments that can estimate the risk of early-onset, high-risk alcohol and drug use among substance-naive children.
Our goal is to enable efficient and accurate triage of families at high risk into preventive interventions.
Why do substance use and potentially traumatic events co-occur during adolescence?
Dozens of studies have studied how and why posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder (SUD) co-occur among adults. However, these theories cannot be easily tested among adolescence because those theories were not created to generalize to adolescents.
We are pursuing a more precise understanding of how and why substance use and potentially traumatic events co-occur during adolescence by answering the following questions:
Do the existing theories of co-occurring PTSD and SUD generalize to adolescents?
What changes must be made to existing theories for them to apply to adolescents?
We investigate questions like these via secondary data analysis projects and theory development.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect substance use among adolescents?
Advent of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the daily lives of teens in unprecedented ways.
With funding from NIAAA, we are investigating how these changes may have affected teen's alcohol and drug use.
Among those in early adolescence, we are finding reduce rates of alcohol use but increased rates of nicotine use and prescription drug misuses.
Ongoing analyses are probing possible variability in the pandemic's effect, the impact of vaccination against COVID-19, and the relationship between infection with COVID-19 and proximal alcohol and drug use.
Read about some of our findings on the Child & Family Blog.