STEM Shoutout: Dr. Katie Witkiewitz

UNM clinical psychologist elected editor of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors

Dr. Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology and researcher at the UNM Center on Alcohol, Substance use, And Addictions (CASAA), was recently elected editor of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (PAB).


“As a first generation college student and as a person who directly experienced the devastating consequences of addiction in my family, I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve as Editor of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. I care deeply about individuals who struggle with addictive behaviors and I am hopeful that we will continue to develop and disseminate effective and science-based prevention and treatment programs to help individuals in changing an addictive behavior or to reduce the consequences of addictive behaviors,” Witkiewitz said. 


As a clinical psychologist who has been studying the psychological risk and protective factors for addiction for more than 20 years, Witkiewitz previously worked on the editorial board of PAB as both consulting editor and associate editor. Witkiewitz has also served on the editorial boards of five additional addiction research journals and says all of this experience combined has given her a 10,000-foot view of the field of addictive behaviors and has prepared her to serve as editor. The editorship is effective 2020 – 2026. 


“I am ultimately responsible for the content of every issue and I want the journal to reflect the best science that is rigorously conducted and carefully reviewed,” Witkiewitz said.


PAB attracts more than 400 manuscript submissions per year. As editor, Witkiewitz says it is her job to provide an initial read of all manuscripts and then decide whether to consider them further for publication or if they would be a better fit for another journal outlet. 


“I aim to increase the impact of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors by improving article quality through guidance on acceptable reporting practices and statistical methods, as well as encouraging open science initiatives. I aim to increase representation of policy-related papers and papers that may enhance dissemination and implementation of prevention and treatment programs into real-world settings,” Witkiewitz said. 


Along with this, Witkiewitz says prioritizing manuscript submissions that address racial and ethnic disparities of addictive behaviors is high on her list.


“Issues of race, ethnicity, and systemic racism in our society are hugely relevant to understanding, preventing, and treating addictive behaviors, as well as to examining health inequities in substance use and substance-related morbidity and mortality. The “War on Drugs” is just one example of how members of racial and ethnic minority groups have been criminalized and systematically targeted for engaging in substance use,” Witkiewitz said. 


For example, Black individuals and Hispanic/Latinx individuals do not use alcohol or drugs at higher rates, on average, than white individuals, but they have much higher arrest and incarceration rates Witkiewitz says. In New Mexico specifically, there exists the highest rate of alcohol-related mortality in the United States, and this is disproportionally higher among American Indian and Hispanic men, even though a greater percentage of white men in New Mexico drink heavily Witkiewitz said. 


“Racism and the sociocultural context of addictive behaviors are critical to understanding issues of health equity in the study of addictive behaviors and I am committed to increasing the dissemination of science that examines social factors in addictive behaviors and racial and ethnic health inequities in addiction etiology, epidemiology, treatment, prevention, and policy,” Witkiewitz said. 


At UNM, Witkiewitz and Dr. Brandi Fink lead the Grand Challenge on Substance Use Disorders. Most recently they have put in motion the COVID-19 Rapid Response Pilot Projects. According to the website, these pilot projects will focus specifically on examining the impact of COVID-19 and New Mexico stay at home orders on substance use patterns and behavioral health symptoms, as well as access to care and positive and negative consequences of stay at home orders among individuals who engage in substance use and those with substance use disorders.


Witkiewitz saidother researchers are reporting an increase in drug overdose deaths and drinking rates nationally and internationally, and it is important to understand how COVID-19 is affecting drug use and drinking in New Mexico.


“This research is important for understanding the role that pandemics and accompanying stress can play in changing substance use behavior and also how to best provide care to individuals who are affected by substance use disorders in the context of the pandemic that does not seem to be going away any time soon,” Witkiewitz said.