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Department of Psychiatry

Department of Psychology

Picture of Dr. Joseph Sakai
           Joseph Sakai, MD

Recent Publications


Joseph Sakai, MD

Associate Professor


1997-1998   Community Medicine Internship, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center

1998-2001 Psychiatry Residency, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center

2001-2003 Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Affiliated Hospitals (50% time)

2001-2003 Research fellowship with the Center for Antisocial Drug Dependence Genetics and Treatment (50% time)

2003-2004 Developmental Psychobiology Research Group Postdoctoral Research Fellowship – NIMH  grant 5T32MH15442

2002-2004 Instructor-Fellow, Division of Substance Dependence, Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine

2003-2006 Associate Director of Adolescent Psychiatric Services, Synergy Programs, Addiction Research and Treatment Services, University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine

2004-2009 Medical Director, Asian Pacific Center for Human Development, Denver, Colorado

2004-present   Assistant Professor, Division of Substance Dependence, Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado School of Medicine

2006-present   Director of Adolescent Psychiatric Services, Synergy Programs, Addiction Research and Treatment Services, University of Colorado School of Medicine

2009-present   Associate Director, Medical Student Education, Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine



1997  Elected to Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, Tulane University School of Medicine

2000  American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and National Institutes on Drug Abuse Travel Award

2001   Selected as a participant in the Sixth Annual Research Colloquium for Junior Investigators, APA

Committee on Research Training, The American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting

2001 American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Resident Research Award

2001 College on Problems of Drug Dependence Early Career Investigator Travel Award

2002 Diplomat in Psychiatry, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

2003-2005 Alcohol Medical Scholars Program (Marc A. Schuckit, M.D., Director)

2004  Added Qualifications – Addiction Psychiatry

2007 Honorary journal editorial board member: Substance Abuse Research and Treatment



Medical Student:

    • MS-III inpatient substance dependence/psychiatric rotation supervision/teaching (1998-1999, 2000, 2002)
    • MS-IV inpatient substance dependence/psychiatric rotation supervision/teaching (1998-1999, 2000, 2002)
    • MS-IV faculty teacher, student elective 8001 – The “Big Six” Substance Problems of Primary Care Medicine (2001-present)
    • Alcohol Medical Scholars Program (2003-2005)
    • Author of standardized patient case “Irma Johnson” for the MS-III Clinical Skills Exam (2004)
    • Lecturer – MED 8029 – MS-IV Clinical Psychopharmacology (2005-present)
    • Experiential Learning Module about AA and other 12-step Programs; faculty (2006-present)
    • MS-I/II Small Group Facilitator (2009-


    • PGY-II, Inpatient supervision (2000, 2002)
    • PGY-III, Consultation/liaison & emergency room supervision (2000)
    • PGY-I, Inpatient supervision (2002)
    • PGY-II, Weekly Off-ward supervision (2002-2004)
    • PGY-I, Outpatient supervision, treatment of dual diagnosis patients (2003)
    • PGY-I, II, III, morning report (2003-2004)
    • PGY-I, Five-lecture series (primer on substance abuse treatment) (2003-2005 and 2007-present)
    • PGY-III, lecturer in the core course on substance abuse treatment (2003-present)
    • PGY-IV, Weekly supervision for Community Psychiatry Rotation (2005-2006)


    • Addiction Fellowship Seminar – Lecturer (2003-present)
    • Addiction Fellow – Monthly supervision – treatment of substance dependent adolescents with comorbid mental health disorders (2005)

Addiction counselors:

    • Bi-annual in-service for Addiction Counselors, Synergy Programs (2004-present)



Sakai serves as the director of adolescent psychiatric services for the division of substance dependence’s clinical programs.  In that role Sakai both handles administrative duties and provides direct clinical care to youth with serious conduct problems (most have a clinical diagnosis of conduct disorder), substance dependence and co-morbid mental health problems, such as ADHD, anxiety, depressive and bipolar disorders.  The adolescent programs span the gamut of level of care including residential, day treatment, multi-systemic therapy and outpatient services.  Those programs admit over 300 patients annually. 



Ongoing Research Support:

P60 DA011015 (Hewitt) 5/1/09-2/28/2014  NIH/NIDA                                                                                                                                

Center on Antisocial Drug Dependence: The Genetics of HIV Risk Behaviors


Center representing the University of Colorado’s Institute for Behavioral Genetics, Division of Substance Dependence and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.  This center conducts research in antisocial drug dependence, human behavioral genetics and HIV Risk Behaviors.


K08  DA016314-01A1 (PI: Sakai)  9/15/04-8/31/09 (1-year no cost extension) NIH/NIDA

Asian Teens, Substance Dependence, and Conduct Disorder 

The main goal of this project is to collect a sample of Asian adolescents at high risk for substance dependence, their first-degree relatives and sample of control Asian adolescents; this sample will be utilized test for associations between two candidate genes and substance dependence phenotypes. 


Completed Research Support:

1R21AA017321-01 (Brown, Sandra)  9/30/07-9/31/09   NIH/NIAAA

Adolescent Neurocognitive Recovery Following Abstinence From Alcohol 

The present study seeks to: 1) develop and refine methodology critical to examination abstention related changes in NP skills and neuroanatomical functioning among adolescents, and 2) conduct a pilot study of such changes comparing abstaining, former heavy drinking 16-18 year olds (>100 lifetime alcohol episodes, recent high dose drinking and withdrawal symptoms) to matched nondrinking peers over 6 weeks of monitored abstention.


1 R01 DA20922-02S1 (Price, Rumi) 9/01/07-8/31/08 NIH/NIDA                          

Disentangling Substance Use and Psychiatric Disorder Comorbidity for Future HuGE: Administrative Supplement (Special Population Office)

This administrative supplement request adds the dataset from the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS) to increase the sample size of admixed (mixed race) AAPIs to enhance specific aims of the Parent Grant.           


Pending/Under Review:

1R01DA026850-01 (Sakai)  04/01/10-3/31/15 3 calendar


Frontal/Temporal Brain Volume and Behavioral Disinhibition: Genetic Determinants

The study seeks to conduct structural brain imaging (MRI) on a large sample of behaviorally disinhibited adolescents and adolescent controls to: (1) search for genetic contributors to between group brain differences and (2) examine the relationship between brain volumes and behavioral disinhibition across adolescence.


1R01 DA029258-01 (Coors)   04/01/10-03/31/13 1.2 calendar
Ethical Issues in Broad Data Sharing for Addiction Research: Best Practices
The proposed research will: (1) identify risks to participants in broadly shared biobanks; (2) attain as much insight as possible about how persons with addictions process information and make decisions about enrolling in risky research; (3) make recommendations for informed consent and Institutional Review Boards that take into account the differences in risk taking propensity in persons with addictions.