ASU study shows childhood loneliness linked to stress, problem drinking in adults

July 20, 2022

Before the pandemic, more than one in 10 children aged 10–12 years reported being lonely.  

New research has shown that experiencing loneliness as a pre-adolescent child predicts problem drinking years later, in early adulthood.  A child stares out a window. An ASU study published in Addictive Behaviors Reports has shown that young adults who experienced childhood loneliness have higher stress levels and more problem drinking behaviors. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels Download Full Image

Alcohol misuse is not the only health problem connected to loneliness. In older adults, loneliness contributes to poor physical health, including dementia, heart disease and stroke. 

Researchers from Arizona State University examined the effects of experiencing childhood loneliness on current stress levels and drinking behaviors in young adults. The study was published in Addictive Behaviors Reports.

“In young adults, childhood loneliness before age 12 was associated with perceived stress right now and affected dysregulated drinking,” said Julie Patock-Peckham, assistant research professor in the ASU Department of Psychology.

Because stress affects whether people drink to excess, especially women, the research team tested whether past experiences with loneliness impacted the stress people feel today.  

Over 300 college students participated in the study, completing assessments of childhood loneliness, current stress levels and drinking behaviors. Feeling lonely in the past was related to present-day stress levels and drinking behaviors.

Higher levels of loneliness before age 12 predicted more stress in early adulthood that was associated with greater alcohol use and alcohol-related problems.

“The data used in this study were collected before the pandemic, and the findings suggest that we could have another public health crisis on our hands in a few years as today’s children grow up,” Patock-Peckham said. “We need more research into whether mitigating childhood loneliness could be a way to disrupt the pathways that lead to alcohol use disorders in adults. Combating childhood loneliness should help to reduce impaired control over drinking, especially among women.”  

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Burton Family Foundation. The research team also consisted of Sophia Berbian and Kiana Guarino, undergraduate students at ASU; Tanya Gupta, a recent graduate of the psychology doctoral program; and Federico Sanabria and Frank Infurna, associate professors of psychology.

Science writer, Psychology Department


ASU grad makes a difference in the lives of children with autism

Sami Shah is part of the first cohort of synchronous graduates in the applied behavior analysis program

July 20, 2022

Sami Shah, a recent graduate of the Master of Science in applied behavior analysis program in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology is one of the first graduates of the synchronous learning option offered by the program.

This option was launched in 2020 and allowed students living outside of the Phoenix metro area to experience live courses with classmates while conducting their practicum training in another city or state.  ASU graduate Sami Shah wearing a maroon graduation cap and gown surrounded by palm trees on the Tempe campus. Sami Shah, a recent graduate of the master’s in applied behavior analysis program in the ASU Department of Psychology. Download Full Image

Shah, a psychology graduate from Ohio State, enrolled in the program while living in Ohio and working for Hopebridge, a national autism therapy center for children. She is currently a case manager at Hopebridge in Gilbert.

She always had the drive to help children, and after working as registered behavior technician, she found that she was thinking about the children and their plans when she was off work and realized it really was a passion. 

“I got more invested in what I was doing, I enjoyed it more, and I found myself thinking about work when I wasn't working,” said Shah, adding, “I realized that I'm actually passionate about what I am doing, so why not go back to school for it?”

In order to take the next step in helping children with autism, she knew that she needed to become a board certified behavior analyst, and that required a master’s degree in behavior analysis. 

Related: Learn about applied behavior analysis from ASU alumni

Shah weighed doing an online program versus a simulcast program, and decided that the live interaction was something she needed. 

One of the biggest features that made ASU a good fit for her was the included practicum, or hands-on clinical training hours. In addition to the course hours, the program has a requirement for 2,000 practicum hours. 

Students work at partner facilities to provide services to children and families, and gain experience with mapping out behavior plans and working in the field. Separately, the faculty then meets with the students to discuss what they experience at their respective practicum sites, and they are able to benefit from the shared experiences as a cohort. These practicum hours also enable graduates to sit for certification upon program completion and be eligible for state licensing once certified. 

In the other programs she was looking at, students would graduate with the required coursework but still have to complete 2,000 hours after graduation in order to meet the qualifications for licensure. 

“I didn't want just an online program, I wanted something more focused and structured. After speaking with Don Stenhoff, the program director, and hearing other people’s experiences with different schools, I decided to apply,” Shah said. “One of the big benefits of the live instruction was that we were able to ask important questions in the moment versus emailing and having to wait.”

It was clear to the program faculty that Shah excelled in this environment.

“Sami began the program with great interest — a benefit of this simulcast program is students foster those skills we are teaching with immediate feedback from their professors. It also provides them with the opportunity to increase their analytic and leadership skills in a group structure, in which Sami succeeded,” Stenhoff said.

Shah hopes to continue working in a center like Hopebridge, where patients arrive at the facility for treatment regularly, but can also envision owning her own practice in the future.

“The most rewarding part for me is that I’m able to make an actual difference in the lives of children and families. Watching my treatment plans succeed and help these kids is just so exciting,” Shah said.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology