Inside CAS

College of Arts and Sciences


Nooner Receives Grant for Research in Risk Factors of Adolescent Binge Drinking

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Written by Tara Fitzpatrick ’17; Photo by Jamie Moncrief

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health rewarded associate professor of psychology Kate Nooner with a $440,186 federal grant. Nooner is the principal investigator on the research, in charge of overseeing the entire study, adhering to regulations, safety of the participants and researchers, and creating an overall positive experience for those involved.

The grant will fund a study to identify risk factors that may lead to binge drinking in adolescents. Nooner and her collaborators will investigate the biomarkers of underage binge drinking in children who has experienced abuse or neglect. The project will include associations with the New Hanover County Department of Social Services and Duke University. 

“I’ve studied childhood trauma throughout my whole research career. I have tried to find ways to prevent childhood trauma itself and the repercussions of experiencing trauma. Alcohol accounted for more than half of the problems contributing to trauma, as well as the problems following trauma,” said Nooner.

The National institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that when teenagers drink alcohol, 90% of their alcohol consumption is considered binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined by one’s blood alcohol level being to a point where they cannot legally drive, which is 0.08.

“In this research, I have several students in my lab participating. We have funding for several undergraduates as well as graduate students. With our new doctoral program in clinical psychology, I imagine there will be a doctoral student working on it as well. I have a collaborator at Duke University, who is an expert in child maltreatment and neuro-imaging,” said Nooner.

The study will be conducted with 60 children in New Hanover Social Services from the ages 12 to 14. Half of the participants will have some experience with maltreatment or trauma and the other half will have no history of maltreatment.

“I am basically Dr. Nooner’s right hand woman in this process,” said graduate research assistant Ashley Synger. “I think the research will have a very big impact. The NIH grant will bring a spotlight to UNCW and will help UNCW gain recognition within the UNC system. Along with that, the research helps bring awareness to underage binge drinking and hopefully create preventative programs throughout the community.” 

The research for the study will involve periodic interviews with the adolescent participants and their parental supervisors. The research team will conduct a mobile study in the participants’ homes, using an electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor changes in the adolescents’ brains throughout the study. Nooner’s research is projected to take three years.

“I am really interested in the EEG process and more so on the behavioral scale,” said Synger. “We are going to be doing a variety of tests about substance abuse, as well as psychological assessments, working memory components, and brainwaves. I’m excited to advance my knowledge of a variety of different areas in psychology by working on this research.”

In terms of the results, Nooner plans to present them at national meetings, specifically ones related to the problems with alcohol use and one’s related to problems with traumatic stress. The study will also be used to inform public policy as a way to get laws and programs in place that will keep children who experience trauma from having such higher experiences with binge drinking.