Psychology Researchers Receive $2.3 Million NIAAA Grant to Study Genetics of Alcohol Abuse

AUSTIN, Texas — Two psychology professors at The University of Texas at Austin have received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to study genetic influences on drinking and other risky behaviors.

The five-year grant to Kim Fromme and Paige Harden will support a project that follows Fromme’s previous NIAAA-funded longitudinal study -- "The UT Experience!" -- which examined drinking and other behavioral risks among more than 2,000 entering freshman at The University of Texas at Austin.

Following these individuals across six years, the project yielded more than 30 peer-reviewed journal articles, including a paper to be published in the November 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. That paper shows that the earlier in life someone begins to drink to the point of intoxication, the more likely it is that heavy drinking will develop into a problem later in life.

These findings and those from the new grant will have important implications for prevention and intervention for alcohol abuse and other hazardous behaviors among young adults.

"Excessive drinking by young adults costs society an estimated $27 billion each year and is a leading cause of death in this age group," Fromme says. "This new grant will allow us to better understand what makes some young people especially vulnerable to the development of alcohol problems."

Using DNA samples, Fromme and Harden will examine how certain genes influence drinking and other behavioral problems. To assess participants’ responses to alcohol in a natural setting, the researchers will conduct part of the study in the SAHARA Lab , a simulated bar laboratory with cocktails, low lighting, music and neon signs.

Fromme, a professor of clinical psychology, is the principal investigator of the study. She is a leading expert in high-risk drinking behavior among college students.

Harden, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the Population Research Center, studies the environmental and genetic influences on atypical adolescent behavior such as drinking and substance abuse, risky sexual activity and antisocial behavior. For more about her research, watch this four-part " Knowledge Matters " video series.