Federal Grant of Nearly Half a Million Dollars Will Fund UNCW Study of Risk Factors for Binge Drinking in Adolescents

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

UNCW associate professor of psychology Kate Nooner is the recipient of a $440,186 federal grant to identify risk factors that may lead to binge drinking in adolescents. Nooner is the principal investigator on the research, which also will involve UNCW graduate and undergraduate students.

The grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health will fund a study of the biomarkers of underage binge drinking in children who have experienced abuse or neglect. The project will involve collaborations with the New Hanover County Department of Social Services and Duke University.

“This grant represents a critical step in identifying neurobiological risk and resilience factors associated with accelerated alcohol use in vulnerable youth,” Nooner said. “This project will provide the tools and experience needed for UNCW students, including some of our new psychology doctoral students, to become leaders in alcoholism prevention, treatment and public policy.”

Nooner and students

Associate professor of psychology Kate Nooner, center, with four students who worked on pilot data that helped secure the grant. From left: Mary Bullock '16, Amber Livingston '16, Morgen Yarasheski '16 and Karah Knight '17.

The study will follow 60 adolescents, ages 12 to 14, for three years to help identify neurocognitive and psychological biomarkers associated with binge drinking. The purpose is to observe the youths over time to identify factors that put adolescents at risk of abusing alcohol.

Half the volunteers, who will be selected with the help of New Hanover County Social Services, will have experienced child abuse or neglect, while the remainder will not have a history of maltreatment.

 It is an observational study involving periodic interviews with the adolescent subjects and their parents. Electroencephalography (EEG) will be used to monitor changes in the participants’ brains throughout the study.

Nooner, who directs the Trauma and Resilience Laboratory in the Department of Psychology, expects that the research will help identify more risk and resilience factors in maltreated children. The findings could help professionals develop targeted prevention programs to reduce high-risk drinking.

The 12-14 age group was chosen because alcohol use often begins around that age, Nooner said, and about 90 percent of alcohol consumed by teenagers is related to binge drinking. High-risk drinking can lead to long-term consequences, including alcoholism and changes in brain development.

-- Tricia Vance