Darlene Walton Scholarship Award winner

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Congratulations to Emily Levitt, who is this year’s recipient of the Darlene Walton Scholarship Award! This award recognizes students who demonstrate excellence in mental health and addiction research, doing work that enhances practice.

Emily is an HRI Trainee and a PhD candidate in the Research and Clinical Training program at McMaster University. Working under the supervision of Dr. James MacKillop, HRI Senior Scientist and Director of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, Emily has made impressive strides in advancing addiction treatment.

In 2020, Emily worked with Dr. MacKillop on a study evaluating common screening tools that are used to detect co-existing mental illnesses in people receiving treatment for addiction. The study resulted in improved tools that now enable clinicians to screen patients more efficiently for both depression and PTSD.

Emily’s current research is shedding light on the relationship between impulsivity and addiction recovery. In a recent study, the research team explored changes in impulsivity over the course of addiction treatment. They also examined how impulsivity affects other psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, trauma, and cravings during treatment.

Working with data from patients in a 45-day inpatient addiction treatment program at Homewood Health Centre, the team found that impulsive personality traits decreased significantly during the course of treatment, while impulsive decision-making remained stable. They also found that people with high impulsive traits at the time of admission experienced fewer changes in anxiety, trauma, and cravings, while those with lower impulsive traits at admission experienced better outcomes related to anxiety, trauma, and cravings.

These findings have important clinical implications. Since impulsivity changes over time during treatment and significantly influences other symptoms, patients may benefit from treatment that aims specifically to reduce impulsivity. We have long known that impulsivity is a risk factor for increased addiction; however, this study suggests that impulsive personality traits may be modifiable risk factors.

Thank you, Emily, for the important contributions you are making to improve our understanding of addiction and addiction treatment. Congratulations on this well-deserved award.