Biological mechanisms of behavior change: The baroreflex and stress reactivity  (2019)

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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly co-morbid with alcohol use disorders (AUD). Individuals who have both conditions have more physical health problems, greater social and functional impairment, higher risk for suicide, and poorer treatment outcomes than those who have either condition alone. Stress can exacerbate symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder. Although there are numerous interventions for each disorder, few employ a transdiagnostic approach that provides treatment for both conditions at the same time. This project investigates the potential of a novel intervention that utilizes a biological mechanism (the baroreflex) to modulate stress among individuals with comorbid PTSD and AUD.

The baroreflex is a biological mechanism that maintains communication between the heart and the brain and operates outside of conscious awareness. It is associated with involuntary physiological reactions to environmental cues, modulation of emotional arousal, and cognitive control of behavior. It is easily manipulated by slow paced breathing and may be uniquely appropriate as a vehicle for management of reactivity to daily stressors.  During this study, the effect of baroreflex manipulation on stress reactivity will be quantified to provide empirical support for paced breathing interventions for posttraumatic stress and substance use disorders.