Virginia Alcohol and Trauma Laboratory

Welcome to the VAT lab!

We are committed to conducting interdisciplinary, clinically relevant research that informs our understanding of the etiology and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorders in high risk populations, particularly adolescents and young adults. We incorporate clinical laboratory paradigms, psychophysiology, and psychiatric genetics methods to study processes underlying risk for these disorders. Our work is particularly focused on the role of cognitive-affective risk (e.g., anxiety sensitivity) and facets of emotion regulation (e.g., distress tolerance) in the associations between trauma and alcohol use phenotypes. The ultimate goal of this body of work is to inform transdiagnostic prevention and early intervention programs for individuals who are at high risk for developing psychopathology following trauma exposure.

Examples of ongoing projects include:

  • A NIAAA-funded investigation of genetic and environmental influences on trauma and alcohol cue reactivity among young adults exposed to interpersonal trauma (e.g., sexual or physical assault)
  • A human laboratory study of panic reactivity and trauma-relevant fear conditioning in OIF/OEF veterans (funded by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation)
  • A pilot study of the effects of parental trauma and PTSD symptoms on child and parent outcomes in the NICU

Representative Publications

Berenz, E. C., Roberson-Nay, R., Latendresse, S., Mezuk, B., Gardner, C. O., Amstadter, A. B., & York, T. P. (in press). Posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence: Epidemiology and order of onset. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.

Berenz, E. C., Kevorkian, S., Chowdhury, N., Dick, D. M., Kendler, K. S., & Amstadter, A. B. (in press). Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, anxiety sensitivity, and alcohol use motives in college students with a history of interpersonal trauma. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Berenz, E. C.*, Cho, S. B.*, Overstreet, C., Kendler, K., Amstadter, A. B.**, & Dick, D. M.** (under review). Longitudinal investigation of interpersonal trauma exposure and alcohol use trajectories. (*Co-first author; **Co-last author).

Berenz, E. C., Amstadter, A. B., Aggen, S. H., Knudsen, G. P., Reichborn-Kjennerud, T., Gardner, C. O., & Kendler, K. S. (2013). Childhood trauma and personality disorder criterion counts: A co-twin control analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122, 1070-1076.

Berenz, E. C., Trapp, S. K., Acierno, R., Richardson, L., Kilpatrick, D. G., Tran, T. L., Trung, L. T., Tam, N. T., Tuan, T., Buoi, L. T., Ha, T. T., Thach, T. D., Gaboury, M., & Amstadter, A. B. (2013). Pre-typhoon panic attack history moderates the relationship between degree of typhoon exposure and post-typhoon PTSD and depression in a Vietnamese sample. Depression and Anxiety, 30, 461-468.

Nosen, E., Nillni, Y. I., Berenz, E. C., Schumacher, J. A., Stasiewicz, P. R., & Coffey, S. F. (2012). Cue-elicited affect and craving: Advancement of the conceptualization of craving in co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence. Behavior Modification, 36, 808-833.

Berenz, E. C., Vujanovic, A. A., Coffey, S. F., & Zvolensky, M. J. (2012). Anxiety sensitivity and breath-holding duration in relation to PTSD symptom severity among trauma exposed adults. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26, 134-139.

Berenz, E. C., & Coffey, S. F. (2012). Treatment of co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 14, 469-477.

Berenz, E. C., Rowe, L., Schumacher, J. A., Stasiewicz, P. R., & Coffey, S. F. (2012). Prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD among individuals in a residential substance use treatment program: A case series. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43, 154-161.

Berenz, E. C., Vujanovic, A. A., Coffey, S. F., & Zvolensky, M. J. (2012). Anxiety sensitivity and breath-holding duration in relation to PTSD symptom severity among trauma exposed adults. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26, 134-139.

Marshall-Berenz, E. C., Vujanovic, A. A., Bonn-Miller, M. O., Bernstein, A., & Zvolensky, M. J. (2010). Multi-method study of distress tolerance and PTSD symptom severity in a trauma-exposed community sample. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23, 623-630.

back to top of page

Stressful Life Events and Alcohol Use Study

Participate in a research study assessing responses to stressful life events and alcohol cues

The purpose of this study is to examine what factors predict how young adults respond to memories of very stressful or traumatic events that are interpersonal in nature. Some examples of interpersonal traumatic events include being badly injured by another person, witnessing violence, unwanted sexual contact/assault, child abuse, or being threatened with a weapon. We also are interested in how young adults who have been exposed to these types of events respond to alcohol in the laboratory.

This study involves two visits to our research space. Session 1 lasts about two and a half hours. You will be asked to provide a saliva sample for DNA analysis, complete questionnaires, and complete a brief interview related to an interpersonal traumatic event that you have experienced. You may skip any questions that make you uncomfortable, and you are able to stop the session at any time without penalty. If it is determined that you are eligible for session 2 of the study, you will be scheduled for this session at the end of session 1.

Session 2 lasts about one and a half hours. You will be asked to refrain from alcohol use for 24 hours prior to this session. During this session, you will be seated in a quiet room and asked to complete some questionnaires. You will then be asked to wear headphones to listen to: (1) a recorded version of the stressful event that you described in session 1, and (2) a recorded neutral scene. While you are listening to these scenes, you will also view and smell: (1) an alcoholic beverage, and (2) water. After each scene is presented, you will be asked some questions about how you are feeling. You may skip any questions that make you uncomfortable, and you are able to stop the session at any time.

Payment: Up to $75

Contact Information:If you would like to learn more about this study and determine whether you are eligible, please contact our research team at vatlab@hscmail.mcc.virginia.edu or give us a call at 434.297.7609.

You can also click here to fill out a contact form indicating study interest and a member of the research team will be in touch to determine study eligibility

Principal Investigator: Erin Berenz, PhD.
IRB-HSR# 18120

back to top of page

Conferences and Presentations Attended

2016 Pediatric Research Symposium Poster Session, Child Health Research Center, UVa

CHRC-Research-Day-17

Contact Us

Contact the VAT lab:
Email:vatlab@hscmail.mcc.virginia.edu
Phone: 434.297.7609
Click here to view our location in Google Maps

Interested in joining our lab?

Interested in joining the VAT lab as a volunteer research assistant? We are currently looking for dedicated individuals who have a strong interest in research and are willing to devote at least 1 year to the lab. To obtain an application, please email the lab coordinator at VATlab@hscmail.mcc.virginia.edu

back to top of page