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Understanding why and how people drink alcohol

Psychology grad student named Sharon Manne Scholar for work on alcohol addiction and motivations


Portrait of Scott King, ASU psychology graduate student.

Scott King is a graduate student in the psychology PhD program at ASU. King is part of the clinical training area under the mentorship of William Corbin, professor of psychology and director of the Behavioral Alcohol Research for Clinical Advancement (BARCA) lab.

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October 03, 2022

When people drink alcohol, it can be for very different reasons, ranging from coping to social behavior. Research done in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology hopes to uncover how temporal attitudes toward drinking can shift and the context in which drinking occurs. 

“Essentially, my research aims to identify individual risk factors of alcohol or risky alcohol use and negative alcohol-related outcomes. We are trying to better understand some of the contributing factors to why substance use disorders develop and people experience negative consequences,” said Scott King, a graduate student in the psychology PhD program at Arizona State University. King is part of the clinical training area under the mentorship of William Corbin, professor of psychology and director of the Behavioral Alcohol Research for Clinical Advancement (BARCA) lab

King wants to know why some people have more reward-based experiences and other people have negative consequences such as addiction or depression. He recently received the Sharon Manne Graduate Student Research Award, given each semester to provide funding for personal research projects that address important and timely mental and physical health issues.

He uses ecological momentary assessments (EMAs) to study drinking in the real world. These are real-time surveys conducted on a smartphone during a drinking episode and can help researchers like King to understand the real context that people are in. 

The benefit of EMAs is that unlike in a simulated bar lab or research setting, the participants are in their normal environments and can provide accurate information about how they are consuming alcohol.

While social drinking is fairly common, issues arise when people actively choose to drink alone. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 85% of adults have had alcohol at some point in their lives, with over 50% of adults choosing to drink alcohol in the past year. However, drinking alone as an adolescent predicts long-term alcohol use problems as an adult, including an increased risk of binge drinking and dependency. 

“There's a significant minority of people who drink alcohol alone or choose to drink alcohol alone, and those individuals expose themselves to a whole other range of consequences above and beyond the people who drink alcohol only with others,” said King, “so that's one of the questions I applied to look at, was to differentiate how reasons for drinking alcohol differ between social and solitary contexts.”

King is also interested in how drinking may change throughout time for an individual and hopes to discover indicators that would predict risky drinking behaviors. 

“One day, someone might drink to have a good time, and another day, someone might drink because they're feeling socially anxious or are in a bad mood, and I want to not only examine how the drinking measures differentiate between social or solitary contexts, but also how they fluctuate over a single drinking episode,” said King. 

The Sharon Manne funding is part of a generous philanthropic gift from Sharon Manne, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine and the associate director of cancer prevention and control at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Manne was a doctoral student in ASU’s clinical psychology program and was mentored by Research Professor Irwin Sandler and former faculty member Alex Zautra. She has committed to fund $25,000 in research proposals developed by ASU doctoral psychology students each year that allows them to conduct independent research projects, often outside the scope of what they are working on with their mentor.

"It's really impressive for a graduate student so early in their career to develop this kind of project with such independence, but that has been characteristic of Scott from the time he arrived at ASU. He has very clear ideas about the research he wants to pursue and he works incredibly hard to pursue his interests. I have no doubt that this project will yield important results and this is just the beginning for Scott in what promises to be a highly productive career as a scientist," said Corbin.

When King found out his proposal was selected, he was elated. 

“It was really, really exciting just to have the opportunity to collect my own data and to answer some ideas that are near and dear to my heart,” said King. “It means a lot to receive funding – to have alumni who have gone through similar programs and put that trust into young graduate students like myself, to say, ‘Hey, continue on this mission.’ This gift really advances our careers and hopefully continues the cycle of excellence in research. There's a lot of weight behind those gifts and we really appreciate it.”

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

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