Examining role of genetics, environment in substance use among adopted children

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will allow scholars from Penn State and three other academic institutions to continue studying the role that both genetics and environment play in the development of early substance use among adopted children.

Jenae Neiderhiser, distinguished professor of psychology and human development and family studies at Penn State, is the principal investigator on the project that includes researchers from Penn State, the University of Oregon, Iowa State University and Purdue University. She said the current NIDA grant, which started April 1 and continues until January 31, 2023, is a continuation of work the team has been conducting on a longitudinal adoption study, the Early Growth and Development Study, which addressed a dearth of research on how heritable, prenatal, hormonal and postnatal factors work together to influence the development of children.

“This is a study that has been going on in some fashion for over 15 years,” Neiderhiser said. "We have been following these children and their birth families from infancy — starting when the children were nine months old. The oldest kids are now approaching middle adolescence, while the youngest are approaching early adolescence.”

The latest study will allow researchers to hone in on a specific area — substance use — to gain a better understanding of the role that genetic and environmental factors play — and how those factors work together, if at all — to influence the development of at-risk behaviors.

“Preventing adolescent substance use and abuse is a national priority; more than one in three high school seniors in the United States report using illicit drugs or inhalants,” notes Karen Bierman, Evan Pugh Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies and director of the Penn State Child Study Center. “This research is critically important because it will uncover the complex factors that increase vulnerability for adolescent substance use and abuse. A better understanding of the factors and individual characteristics that put youth at risk will guide the design and improve the effectiveness of our prevention and early intervention programs.”

Funding from the Penn State Social Science Research Institute enabled Neiderhiser and her team to collect pilot data and supported some of the preparatory work used in the NIDA grant application. To learn more about the NIDA-funded study, contact Neiderhiser at 814-865-4818 or

Jenae Neiderhiser, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies, is principal investigator on a five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse involving researchers from Penn State and three other academic institutions. Credit: photo providedAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated April 04, 2018