Will Corbin

WILL CORBIN, PH.D.

CorbinMy research focuses on both the causes and consequences of alcohol use and abuse. Alcohol abuse is multiply determined and therefore requires examination of complex models including genetic, pharmacological and psychosocial factors. Endophenotypes associated with genetic risk may include low responsivity to the intoxicating effects of alcohol and increased impulsivity following alcohol consumption. I have studied the effects of alcohol on these processes by bringing participants into a simulated bar laboratory, where their behavior can be directly observed after they are dosed to a target BAC level. In addition, genetic

samples are collected to identify specific polymorphisms that may be associated with these behavioral responses. Psychosocial influences on alcohol abuse include alcohol expectancies and perceptions of normative use. Alcohol expectancies are beliefs individuals hold about the effects they experience from drinking. Studies have shown that these beliefs develop in childhood and are predictive of both alcohol use and alcohol-related problems. Individual perceptions about normative use in a relevant peer group are also associated with alcohol consumption. For example, most college students overestimate how much their peers drink, which may contribute to heavy drinking on college campuses. My research on prevention of alcohol-related problems in young adults has focused primarily on targeting these psychosocial risk factors.

Although alcohol abuse and dependence are the most obvious negative consequences of heavy drinking, these clinical disorders account for only a fraction of the social costs associated with alcohol use. Heavy episodic alcohol use, or “binge” drinking is common among young adults and contributes to a host of high-risk behaviors with their own associated costs. Examples include unprotected sexual behavior and driving under the influence. In the simulated bar lab, I have been able to study the effects of alcohol on various cognitive processes including attention, memory, and executive cognitive functioning. Participants receive an initial standard dose of alcohol and are then asked to complete various cognitive and behavioral tasks. The goal is to understand the mechanisms through which alcohol contributes to behavioral decisions that place individuals at risk for negative consequences. Ultimately, this may lead to more effective harm prevention programs for binge drinkers.