$3 Million NIDA Grant for Brain Imaging Study to Explore How Lack of Self-Awareness May Lead Some People to Reject Treatments for their Opioid Addiction

Impaired Insight is a term in Psychiatry that refers to the idea that patients with certain diseases have a compromised sense of self-awareness that makes them unaware how ill they are. For people with an opioid use disorder (OUD), impaired insight may cause patients to reject proven treatments for their addiction.

Supported by a nearly $3 million grant from National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Scott J. Moeller, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, is embarking on an imaging study of the brain to reveal what is happening in the brains of those with OUD, who, despite profound problems with drugs, are not committed to taking their prescribed treatment medications. The grant runs through June 2025.

Dr. Moeller, the Principal Investigator, suspects that lack of insight in OUD, rather than reflecting simple “denial,” may be rooted in brain circuitry abnormalities. He and Co-Investigator Richard Rosenthal, MD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, and Director of Addiction Psychiatry Services, believe that there are particular deficits in the “self-referential” network, which is an interconnected group of brain regions that function to enable people to think about themselves and process self-relevant information.

Drs. Moeller and Rosenthal will use function MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to isolate activity in these brain areas and determine differences in self-referential brain functioning between OUD patients and non-addicted healthy controls. The work will be completed in collaboration with Stony Brook’s Multi-Modal Translational Imaging Lab, which is led by Anissa Abi-Dargham, MD, Vice Chair for Research, Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.

The researchers expect the results will shed new light on the importance of impaired insight in addiction and its bases in the brain, which in turn may have future applications to clinical treatment. 

About Dr. Moeller
Dr. Moeller received his undergraduate degree from Stony Brook University Honors College in 2005 and his PhD from the University of Michigan in 2010, both in Psychology. He then completed postdoctoral training in addiction neuroimaging at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where he was also promoted to Assistant Professor in 2013. Dr. Moeller moved to Stony Brook in 2017 to develop his own program of research in substance use disorders, while also helping the Multi-Modal Translational Imaging Lab to grow its work in addiction-schizophrenia comorbidity. Dr. Moeller has published more than 60 papers in peer-reviewed journals and is an Editorial Board member for Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology and American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.