FIU ReACH Lab | Research on Adolescent and Child Health
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Innovative scientists

The ReACH Lab is committed to understanding how problem behavior including alcohol and drug use develops among children and adolescents.


Identify early risk and protective factors

We aim to identify key biological, social, and individual risk and protective factors that contribute to alcohol and drug use so that youths ReACH their full potential.


Cutting-edge research

The ReACH Lab collaborates with fellow scientists and recruits diverse students who have a passion for learning and critical thinking.


Subjective norms as a mediator between exposure to online alcohol and marijuana content and offline use among adolescents

A new study conducted by ReACH Lab Graduate Student Julie V. Cristello, alongside ReACH Lab Director and ACE-Project Co-PI Dr. Elisa Trucco, ACE Project Co-PI Dr. Matthew Sutherland, and Dr. Dana M. Litt, explored the effects that social media had on adolescent substance use. It further explained how while adolescent substance use (SU) may be viewed as normative, SU can quickly escalate leading to consequences. Social media use may increase SU risk, as adolescents now spend over eight hours a day on screen media. Despite using social media to connect with others, adolescents also view depictions of glamorized SU (text or images) by both peers and influential figures. Exposure to online alcohol and marijuana content may impact subjective norms (i.e., injunctive or perceptions of approval and descriptive or perceptions of use) ultimately leading to increased offline SU. Data from a multi-wave project was collected to assess whether subjective norms mediated associations between exposure to alcohol and marijuana content by peers and influential figures on Instagram and Snapchat and offline SU. At Wave 1, participants were 264 adolescents (Mage = 14.91, 51% Female, 86% White, 85% Hispanic/Latino/a/x). Findings suggest that increased exposure to online alcohol and marijuana content was more consistently associated with injunctive norms, or perceptions of approval, than descriptive norms, or perceptions of use. Future research should examine which social media features (e.g., the like button) contribute to increased subjective norms. Overall, findings suggest that social media may strongly convey approval of SU behaviors rather than actual use.

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Alexithymia Mediates the Association between Childhood Trauma and Adolescent E-Cigarette Use

A new study conducted by ACE Project Graduate Assistants Benjelene Sutherland and Nilofar Fallah-Sohy, alongside ReACH Lab Director and ACE-Project Co-PI Dr. Elisa Trucco and ACE Project Co-PI Dr. Matthew Sutherland, explored the mediating effects of alexithymia (i.e., difficulties identifying and describing feelings) on the relationship between childhood maltreatment and e-cigarette use. Using data from the ongoing ACE Project, results found that emotional abuse and neglect predicted difficulty describing feelings, which in turn predicted e-cigarette use. Results may indicate that, due to the oftentimes social context of vaping, adolescents who experience difficulty describing feelings may vape to connect with peers. It may also be that the nicotine effects in the brain, which may serve to improve verbalization of emotions, may lead adolescents who are limited in describing their feelings as a result of prior adverse experiences to vape as a way to connect emotionally with others and emotions within themselves.

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Pathways to substance use: Examining conduct problems and parenting behaviors from preschool to adolscence

A new study conducted by ReACH Lab Graduate Student Megan M. Hare, alongside Samuel W. Hawes, Michelle Villar, Robert A. Zucker, and ReACH Lab Director Dr. Elisa Trucco, examined how child conduct problems (CP), parenting behaviors, and parents’ own antisocial behavior relate from preschool to adolescence and eventuate in substance use. Participants included 706 youth enrolled in the Michigan Longitudinal Study. A random intercept cross-lagged panel model (RI-CLPM) examined reciprocal associations between parenting practices, parents’ antisocial behavior, and child CP over time (waves 1-4) and how these factors contribute to adolescent alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use (wave 5). At the within-person level, negative parenting and parents own antisocial behavior had a strong influence in late childhood/early adolescence. Only child CP emerged as a significant predictor of substance use. Results highlight the importance of early intervention and the potential influence of parenting and child factors throughout development in the prevention of SU.

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We are seeking talented graduate students to start fall 2023!


The ReACH Lab is comprised of scientists committed to interdisciplinary and innovative research.

Elisa Trucco, Ph.D.

Lab Director

Nilofar Fallah-Sohy

Graduate Research Assistant

Manuel Bruzos

ReACH Lab Manager and Post-Bac Research Assistant

Julie Cristello, M.S.

Graduate Research Assistant

Sarah Hartmann

Graduate Research Assistant

Alexandra Sawczak

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Megan Hare

Graduate Research Assistant

Benjelene Sutherland

ACE Project Graduate Research Assistant

Jamile Gonzalez

Undergraduate Research Assistant


  • ACE Project Graduate Students Present at Student Services Conference

    On October 27th, ACE graduate students, Benejelene Sutherland and Patricio Perez, presented at the Student Services Conference hosted at Ronald W. Reagan/Doral Senior High School. The conference provided Student Services professionals with valuable knowledge and insight from experts in their respective fields. Benejelene and Patrico presented information about e-cigarette use among adolescents, such as a quick background on e-cigarettes, e-cigarette use rates among teens, nicotine use and the developing brain, preliminary findings, and resources. They presented in three sessions, totaling an audience of 45 school counselors and teachers who were also interested in having them present in their respective schools.  ...

  • ReACH Lab Director Interviewed Regarding “One Chip Challenge”

    ReACH Lab Director, Dr. Elisa Trucco, was interviewed by two media companies in relation to the One Chip Challenge. In an article published by AP News on September 11th, 2023, author Wyatte Grantham-Philips details the recent social media trend and references a Massachusetts teen’s death that is allegedly tied to the challenge. The author quotes Dr. Trucco explaining how there is a “‘glamorization of these challenges on social media'”. She further elaborates how “‘You see a lot of ‘likes’ or comments (indicating) social status or popularity from these challenges, but you don’t see a lot of the negative consequences — like the trips to the E.R. or other injuries.'” Wyatte Grantham-Philips then quoted Dr. Trucco again at the end of the article: “‘There’s a reason why these challenges are appealing,'” and that, “‘This type of marketing sells.'” In another interview conducted over the radio by Corus Entertainment Inc. on September 13th, 2023, Dr. Trucco explains how adolescents are most vulnerable to these social media challenges. She also explains how adolescents in general are more susceptible to risk-taking behaviors and provides Juuls as an example. She elaborates on the biological reasoning for the vulnerability of adolescents: “reward centers of the brains, such as those activated when gaining social status and popularity…, develops much more quickly than areas of the brain having to do with decision making or stopping to think about possible consequences.” When asked about how to protect kids from these challenges and trends, Dr. Trucco replied that “this problem really involves various people taking action.” She continues stating, “More generally, in terms of what we could do for these challenges, [it is important for parents to] stay on top of these trends, to not only keep their eyes out for these products in the home but also to have open conversations with their children about these challenges and potential negative consequences.”...