Psychology Prof Wins Award For Alcohol Abuse Research

Cathy Lau-Barraco, who joined the psychology faculty a year ago, has received a five-year, $750,000 Mentored Research Scientist Development Award to advance her studies of alcohol abuse by young people.

The award, which also will fund career training and development opportunities, is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a part of the National Institutes of Health.

This funding will help Lau-Barraco broaden her research, which primarily in the past focused on college students. A major thrust of the new grant is to help nonstudent emerging adults. This category of young people, she believes, may face greater severity of substance abuse problems than college students.

The award has its origins in a decision Lau-Barraco made as an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida. She served as the study coordinator of an alcohol intervention program for heavy-drinking college students. “As a result of this experience, I chose to continue in this line of research during my graduate training,” said the assistant professor.

Her studies began two years ago to look at drinking patterns for non-student emerging adults. The NIAAA-funded research is geared specifically to address problem drinking by 18-25-year-olds who are not students.

Lau-Barraco noted that, in general, this population is in a developmental period during which they may be more prone than other age groups to explore behavior options or have feelings of instability. “Specifically, the developmental characteristics that define this stage of life for many emerging adults can result in greater alcohol consumption, and consequently, higher risk for alcohol-related consequences.”