UIC nursing professor lauded for substance abuse research

Tonda Hughes

Tonda Hughes, professor of health systems science and associate dean for Global Health.

Tonda Hughes, an internationally recognized researcher on women’s mental health and substance abuse at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Nursing, has been selected to receive the Betty Ford Award from the Association of Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse.

The award is given to an individual who has made a significant impact on the field of alcohol and drug abuse, particularly in regards to women’s issues, substance abuse education and recovery.

Hughes will be presented with the award at the association’s annual conference in San Francisco on Nov. 6.

Hughes, professor of health systems science and associate dean for Global Health at UIC, has received nearly $20 million in funding over 25 years to study women’s mental health and substance abuse. She was among the first researchers to draw major national funding for research on sexual-minority women’s health, an area identified by the Institute of Medicine as greatly understudied.

“Compared to heterosexual women, sexual-minority women have been shown to be at higher risk for a number of unsafe health behaviors and negative health outcomes, including being overweight, obesity, smoking and substance abuse,” Hughes said.

Her study of risk and protective factors for heavy drinking and drinking-related problems was the first study funded by the National Institutes of Health on sexual-minority women’s drinking behaviors and related risk factors. Now in its 15th year, the study is the longest-running and one of the only longitudinal studies on the problem.

Sexual minorities are one of six population groups identified in the federal “Healthy People 2020” report as suffering from major health disparities. The document serves as the blueprint for national public health prevention and policy goals for the next decade.

“Health disparities among sexual minorities have long been explained on the basis of excess stress resulting from being part of a marginalized and stigmatized population group,” Hughes said. “However, our work on childhood victimization has begun to point to another potentially critical factor underlying these health disparities – mainly, the enduring impact of sexual and physical abuse into adulthood.”

In a recent paper published in the journal Addiction, Hughes examined the links between victimization and substance use using data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. She found that compared to women who identify as heterosexual, women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are more than twice as likely to report victimization over their lifetime. Three times as many lesbians as heterosexual women reported childhood sexual abuse.

“Given the enormous impact of childhood victimization on health, this work has major implications for improving the health and quality of life of both sexual-minority and heterosexual populations, and for progress toward eliminating health disparities based on sexual orientation,” Hughes said.

Hughes serves or has served as consultant to numerous federal agencies and institutes and to researchers in the U.S., Canada, India, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. Her publications include four edited books and journals and more than 100 scholarly papers. Her earliest book, Addiction in the Nursing Profession, won the 1989 American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year award.

Hughes is on the editorial board of several national and international journals and is a regular reviewer for more than a dozen others. She has received numerous honors and awards for her scholarly work and research, including induction as a Fellow into the American Academy of Nursing in 2001.

The Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse, located in Providence, Rhode Island, was founded in 1976 by members of the Career Teachers Program, a multidisciplinary health professional faculty development program supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Association members have been responsible for many advances in substance-abuse research and have developed state-of-the-art curricula, educational programs, and faculty development programs.