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

Byron Pena

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Julie Cristello, M.S.

Graduate Research Assistant

Sarah Hartmann

Graduate Research Assistant

Alexandra Sawczak

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Elizabeth Alvarez

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Megan Hare

Graduate Research Assistant

Benjelene Sutherland

ACE Project Graduate Research Assistant

Jamile Gonzalez

Undergraduate Research Assistant


  • ReACH Lab Director Gave a Virtual Presentation at HHC Virtual 3rd Annual Vaping Forum

    On April 21st, 2023, ACE Project Co-PI and ReACH Lab Director, Dr. Elisa Trucco, provided a virtual presentation to teachers, community leaders, and school administrators at the HCC’s 3rd Annual Vaping Forum. The presentation was entitled “Understanding Etiological Processes in the Emergence of Electronic Cigarette Use. Dr. Trucco provided the recent findings from the ACE project data on adolescent vaping. There were 25 people in attendance....

  • ACE Project Graduate Student Presents at UF CARE 10th Annual Symposium

    On April 17th, 2023, ACE Project graduate student, Benjelene Sutherland, presented a research poster at the UF CARE 10th Annual Symposium, at the University of Florida. The poster was titled “Working memory alterations predict adolescent e-cigarette use and positive outcome expectancies via Alexithymia” and examined the interrelations between working memory, task performance, difficulty describing feelings, and adolescent e-cigarette use and positive outcome expectancies. The findings showed support for simple mediation via difficulty describing feelings, such that alterations in working memory were associated with more difficulty describing feelings and that in turn predicted more e-cigarette use and positive outcomes expectancies (i.e., believe that e-cigarettes would help with negative affect reduction). Benjelene Sutherland was also awarded the UF CARE annual symposium travel award that was funded by the Center for Addiction Research & Education, University of Florida. ...