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November 1, 2006 - 12:00am to November 2, 2006 - 12:00am
Bethesda Marriott, Bethesda, Maryland

NIDA Organizer(s): Yonette Thomas, Ph.D.

Meeting Purpose and Intent:

The social environment increasingly is becoming important to understanding drug use and abuse. However, it is often misunderstood and inadequately measured, analyzed and applied. There is a need to conceptualize the social environment and to develop methods for measuring it. Moreover, a number of questions remain for advancing drug abuse research and the impact of the social environment, including the development and use of common sound measures.

The purpose of this workshop was to bring together researchers interested in mapping the environment, including those who study the social environment. In particular, this workshop brought together researchers who are interested in linking the social environment to the biological/genetic and physical environment and vice versa. This workshop included experts in epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, genetics and other related disciplines who spent the day and a half (1) defining the social environment, (2) addressing methodological challenges, and (3) identifying the relevance of the social environment in drug abuse research.

Questions that were addressed include:

  1. What is the social environment?
  2. What implications does thinking about multiple levels of influence have for our understanding of the social environment?
  3. How may we best measure or assess different elements of the "social environment"?
  4. What are the methodological challenges faced by studies concerned with the role of the social environment in drug abuse research?
  5. What are the methodological implications of the observation that "drug use" is not one disease outcome in and of itself, but rather a heterogeneous group of diseases and behaviors?
  6. What are the potential challenges that the presence of multiple drug use phenotypes pose to the study of how the social environment affects drug use behavior?
  7. How can we effectively study the joint role of social and genetic determinants of drug use behavior?

Brief Discussion of Meeting Outcome:

The panelists agreed to five levels of environmental factors: family, school, peer, neighborhood, and community/culture. They agreed that these should be examined over the course of development, from prenatal through adulthood, and at key transition points. They discussed the "key domains" and recommended several additions, deletions, and qualifications to the list. The next step will be to conduct a systematic review of the literature and to develop a set of common metrics for review by a subgroup of the meeting participants. The estimated timeframe for panelists to receive something from NIDA is two to three months.

Brief Description of Resulting Publications: