The Goals of Our Research

Our group’s main focus of interest is the psychological and physical well-being of young people and the interaction between these two aspects. We also study the ways and reasons why young people use drugs and alcohol, as well as possible interventive and preventive strategies.

Our most important partners are the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the Departments of Public Health and Pharmacy at the University of Eastern Finland and the Departments of Radiology and Clinical Physiology at Kuopio University Hospital. Our research group belongs to the collaboration network of Neurocenter Finland

Group Leader (projects 1 and 2)

Tommi Tolmunen, MD, PhD, Professor; UEF and KUH

Project 1. The Youth Well-being Study

which began in 2005, comprises three different parts: 

  • Baseline data (n = 4000)
  • Follow-up data (n = 800)
  • Of the follow-up participants, we selected 80 young adults who reported the highest and the lowest alcohol use (40 + 40). These participants underwent various brain-imaging tests (MRI, TMS-EEG) and provided blood samples for metabolomics analyses.

Project 2. The REAL-SMART project

began in 2017, and consists of two individual but interconnected parts:

a) Data collection for the Recognition and early intervention for alcohol and substance abuse in adolescence (REAL) project began in 2017 and is currently ongoing. We are investigating whether it is possible to use an electronic mini-intervention to reduce drug and alcohol use among young people and to improve their well-being. We are also examining the effects of drug and alcohol use on the metabolic profile. Our goal is to introduce an electronic version of the ASSIST questionnaire to a wider community, assuming that the electronic mini-intervention will reduce or prevent youth drug use. 

b) The Systemic metabolic alterations related to different psychiatric disease categories in adolescent outpatients (SMART) project began concurrently with the REAL project. In the SMART project, we are investigating the metabolic profiles of adolescent psychiatry patients. Research data on systemic metabolic alterations related to different psychiatric diseases in adolescents are scarce. The onset of the majority of psychiatric diseases, however, occurs in adolescence. Studying the early stages of psychiatric diseases may provide valuable information on the mechanisms of illnesses. We assume that metabolomic methods will provide the opportunity to differentiate psychiatric diagnostic profiles. Systemic metabolic profiles may help us predict the prognosis of psychiatric diseases and the efficiency of different treatments.

Group Leader (project 3)

Virve Kekkonen, MD, PhD, adolescent psychiatrist, clinical lecturer

Project 3. Adolescents and Alcohol Project – Follow-up Study (ALPRO)

Alcohol use in adolescence interferes with normal brain development. Thus, the detrimental effects of alcohol use might not manifest until adulthood. Previous findings from the Adolescent and Alcohol Project suggested that even without a clinical substance use disorder, binge drinking from adolescence alters the structure and functioning of the brain in healthy young adults. More research is needed to explore how changing drinking behavior in young adults affects brain structure and functioning. This research might help to identify risk factors for alcohol use disorder. The aims of our research are to:

– Further investigate the progression and permanency of alterations in brain structure and functioning

– Investigate brain connectivity and excitability characteristics preceding alcohol use disorder

– Compare acute alcohol intake and exposure-induced alterations in brain connectivity and excitability among binge drinkers and non-binge drinkers/teetotalers

Would You Like to Work with Us?

We may have positions for those interested in completing their master’s thesis or MD thesis or post-doctoral research in some of the group’s focus areas. If you are interested in working with us, you can contact Tommi (tommi.tolmunen (at)