Four to five drinks in an evening. Starting the weekend on Thursday with happy hour. No big deal, right?
Wrong, according to Mariann Piano, new senior associate dean for research at the School of Nursing, whose work indicates that binge drinking by young adults 18-30 may lead to vascular dysfunction and increased vulnerability to cardiovascular disease.
“It’s not particularly news that binge drinking impacts the cardiovascular system, but almost all previous studies only included middle-aged to older adults,” said Piano, who comes to Vanderbilt from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing. “Young adults, who actually consume the most alcohol and have the highest rates of binge drinking, have been excluded or underrepresented in these studies.”
Binge drinking rates are at an all-time high: One in five students reports three or more binge drinking episodes in the prior two weeks. More students drink to get drunk, then black out. They consume six to seven drinks per binge drinking episode. Compared to previous generations, the pervasiveness, regularity and intensity of binge drinking may place today’s youth at greater risk for alcohol-related harm. Piano and colleagues aim to determine if this harm includes damaging effects on the cardiovascular system.
Piano is co-principal investigator on a two-year National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism R21 grant. The project compares young adult binge drinkers, moderate drinkers and abstainers and will examine whether binge drinkers experience vascular dysfunction (i.e., abnormalities) in the body’s blood vessels. This study also will consider if binge drinkers have increased blood pressure and other markers during physical exertion, all of which can be indicative of premature cardiovascular disease.
Piano said that as a nursing undergraduate, the cardiovascular system fascinated her. She worked in a medical and coronary intensive care unit as a cardiovascular nurse while obtaining her master’s and doctorate. She began studying the effects of alcohol on the cardiovascular system during her doctoral studies. Piano also has investigated heart failure and the effects of smoking on the cardiovascular system. In recognition of her contributions, both the American Heart Association and American Academy of Nursing have inducted her as a fellow.
Piano’s direct research experience is just one of the strengths she brings as senior associate dean for the School of Nursing’s research and scholarship. In addition to conducting research, she is charged with mentoring and supporting faculty in scholarship, expanding research programs and directing efforts to increase funding.
She plans to grow the number of research-active faculty at the school and build more interdisciplinary research relationships with other Vanderbilt schools. “As a science-based discipline, nursing has so much expertise to offer,” she said. “Having clinical expertise, nurses ask different questions.”
View the complete list of new Vanderbilt University faculty for 2017-18.