Interoception describes our ability to sense the physical condition of our bodies. When we become aware of visceral sensations such as hunger, heart rate, breathlessness, and temperature, it’s our interoceptive system at work. Research suggests that abnormal brain processing of interoceptive information may increase the risk of developing alcohol or drug addiction. Altered visceral processing may also maintain maladaptive substance use.
My dissertation research is conducted within the Center on Interoceptive Dysregulation in Addiction at UCSD. I use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study how teens’ brains respond to pleasant and aversive body sensations. I’m investigating whether these brain responses differ between kids who do and don’t use alcohol and drugs. I also want to know if the structure of interoceptive brain areas is related to substance use risk.
When a fetus is exposed to alcohol, lifelong problems with thinking, behavior, and physical health can result. At the Center for Behavioral Teratology at SDSU, my research has focused on adolescents who were exposed to large amounts of alcohol in the womb. Using structural MRI, I’m interested in understanding how the size and shape of particular brain regions is altered in alcohol-exposed kids. I have focused on how these brain differences relate to problems with inhibition, impulsivity, and other executive functions.