Life Course Research Laboratory

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Researchers in this laboratory collect and analyze longitudinal data to delineate the development, etiology, course, and consequences of substance use and substance use disorder over the life course. Longitudinal datasets span developmental stages of the life course including childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, midlife, and older adulthood; and include national, community, high-risk, and clinical samples. In addition to substance use, research focuses on other problem behaviors (e.g., delinquency and violence), and mental health problems and how they are comorbid with substance-use behaviors. Research also focuses on factors predicting substance-use reductions and recovery from substance use disorders, including young-adult "maturing out" but also reductions and recovery occurring in later periods of the lifespan. Findings are used to guide developmentally-informed prevention and intervention strategies at the clinical, public-health, and policy levels.

Research Aim(s): 
  • Explication of a taxonomy of developmental trajectories of substance use and substance use disorders over the life course
  • Identification of developmental risk and protective factors for the onset and maintenance of substance use/problems
  • Identification of short- and long-term consequences of use
  • Identification of antecedents of reductions in substance use/problems, including young-adult "maturing out" but also reductions in later periods of the lifespan
  • Examination of the comorbidity of substance use with other problem behaviors, including criminal offending, street and intimate partner violence, child maltreatment, mental health problems, and risky sexual behavior
  • Examination of gender, ethnic/racial, and socioeconomic differences in rates, developmental trajectories, predictors, and consequences of substance use
  • Translation of etiological research into developing age- and culturally-appropriate prevention and intervention strategies
  • Development of measures of problem use (e.g., the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index; RAPI)


Active Research Projects: 
  • The Addiction Recovery and Lifespan Development Study investigates mechanisms of desistance from problem drinking across developmental periods of the adult lifespan. Analyses investigate various potential recovery mechanisms stemming from multiple theoretical perspectives on recovery (e.g., family-role transitions, personality maturation, alcohol-related "problem recognition" and drinking restraint, health concerns), as well as whether these potential mechanisms vary in their importance to recovery across different periods of the adult lifespan. Secondary data analyses leverage existing datasets from large, nationally representative samples and smaller but more richly assessed community-based, high-risk samples. In addition, this study is currently funded by NIAAA to collect longitudinal data focused on possible health-related mechanisms of problem-drinking recovery in midlife and older adulthood from a lifespan developmental perspective (grant R00-AA024236 to Matthew Lee, 2018-2021). This research will be facilitated by reassessments of past participants from a longitudinal, multigenerational study of familial alcohol use disorder (Laurie Chassin's Adult and Family Development Project) who are now aging into midlife and older adulthood.  
  • The 3 Campus Alcohol and Marijuana (3CAM) Study examines simultaneous alcohol and marijuana (SAM) use among college students at three state universities, each with very different state laws regarding marijuana use, using a two-phase approach: a larger survey assessment administered in the Fall semester of 2017 and Spring semester of 2018 (Phase 1, N = 1390) coupled with a fine-grained daily survey design (Phase 2, N =340) administered for 4 weeks each semester. Occasions of SAM use are being compared to occasions of alcohol and marijuana use alone, in terms of prevalence, frequency, patterning, mode/type of use, and use-related consequences. In addition, the study  examines within- and between-individual proximal and distal predictors of SAM use and the moderating effects of motivations and contexts on patterns of SAM use, occasions of SAM use, and negative consequences. This study is currently funded by NIDA through a collaborative research grant to Helene White here in the Life Course Research Laboratory and Kristina Jackson in Brown University's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies (R01-DA040880, 08/15/2016–03/31/2019).

  • The Rutgers Health and Human Development Project (HHDP), which began in 1979, is a prospective, longitudinal study of the emergence and unfolding of alcohol and other drug use behaviors in interaction with the individual's physical, psychological and social development from adolescence into adulthood. The design of the HHDP study involves three partially overlapping, longitudinal sequences each starting at a different age (12, 15, and 18) and spanning a combined age range from 12 to 31. This study has been funded by NIAAA, NIDA, NIJ, ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the MacManus Foundation.

  • The Pittsburgh Youth Study (PYS) uses data from 1009 young men who were initially recruited from the Pittsburgh public schools in 1986 when they were either in the first or seventh grade. These young men (who were oversampled for risk for antisocial behavior) were interviewed at least every year until ages 20-25 and again in young adulthood at ages 26-36. Parents were interviewed until the youths were age 18 and teachers completed questionnaires through middle high school. Official criminal records have also been searched. With these data, we are studying racial differences in predictors and consequences of substance use and criminal offending over the life course. This study has been funded by OJJDP, NIMH, NIDA, NIAAA, CDC, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Recent Press and Presentations: 

o    Lee, M. R., Yeung, E. W., Chassin, L., & Sher, K. J. (2017, June). A Lifespan-Developmental Investigation of Marriage and Problem-Drinking Desistance: Evidence for Young-Adult Specificity of the Marriage Effect and its Mediators. Presented at the 13th Annual Satellite Session for Research on Mechanisms of Behavior Change, 40th Annual Scientific Meeting for the Research Society on Alcoholism, Denver, CO. Presentation Slides:


o    Lee, M. R., McDowell, Y. E., & Sher, K. J. (in press). Progression of substance use to substance use disorder. In Z. Sloboda, H. Petras, R. Hingson, & E. Robertson (Eds.), Introduction to Substance Use Prevention.

o    Guttmannova, K., Skinner, M. L., Oesterle, S., White, H. R., Catalano, R. F., & Hawkins, J. D. (2018). The Interplay Between Marijuana-Specific Risk Factors and Marijuana Use Over the Course of Adolescence. Prevention Science, 1-11. Abstract:

o    White, H. R., Conway, F. N., Buckman, J. F., & Loeber, R. (2018). Does Substance Use Exacerbate Escalation Along Developmental Pathways of Covert and Overt Externalizing Behaviors Among Young Men?. Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology, 4(2), 137-147. Abstract:

o    Guttmannova, K., Kosterman, R., White, H. R., Bailey, J. A., Lee, J. O., Epstein, M., ... & Hawkins, J. D. (2017). The association between regular marijuana use and adult mental health outcomes. Drug and alcohol dependence, 179, 109-116. Abstract:

o    Lee, M. R. & Sher, K. J. (2017). “Maturing out” of binge and problem drinking. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. PDF:

o    Lee, M. R., Boness, C. L., McDowell, Y. E., Vergés, A., Steinley, D. L., & Sher, K. J. (2017). Desistance and Severity of Alcohol Use Disorder: A Lifespan-Developmental Investigation. Clinical Psychological Science. Abstract:

o    White, H. R., Beardslee, J., & Pardini, D. (2017). Early predictors of maturing out of marijuana use among young men. Addictive behaviors, 65, 56-62. Abstract:


Training Offered: 
  • Each year graduate students are hired to work on some projects within the lab. Paid and unpaid undergraduate interns are also included on some projects. The lab also provides training to postdocs and graduate students through participation in training functions of the Center of Alcohol Studies (e.g., the Center's Emerging Addiction Science Seminar).      


Core Faculty:


Matthew R. Lee, Director
Helene White


Affiliated Faculty:

Marsha Bates
Jennifer Buckman
Vanessa Bal
Nicole Cain
Laurie Chassin (Arizona State University)
Fiona Conway (University of Texas, Austin)
Kristina Jackson (Brown University)
Dustin Pardini (Arizona State University)
Lesia Ruglass

Post-doctoral Fellows:

Skye Fitzpatrick