Kristina Phillips

Associate Professor

Kristina Phillips

Degree: Ph.D., 2005, Bowling Green State University, Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Medicine

Research Interests

I would describe my primary research interests as the application of public health and behavioral medicine to the treatment of illicit substance use. My main interests fall into several domains:

  • Risk/harm reduction and disease prevention among out-of-treatment substance users
  • Substance abuse intervention development and treatment effectiveness
  • Ecological momentary assessment (EMA)

Medical Consequences associated with Injection Drug Use

Much of my work over the last several years has focused on health consequences associated with injection drug use. Injection drug users (IDUs) engage in a number of substance use practices that put them at high risk for viral disease (e.g., HIV, Hepatitis C), bacterial infections (e.g., skin abscesses, endocarditis), and overdose. Past studies have shown that specific practices, such as sharing needles, frequent injection, and not cleaning one’s skin before injecting, all pose risk for infection. Much of my recent work (Phillips, Anderson, & Stein, 2008; Phillips & Stein, 2010) has focused on establishing the range of high-risk practices (e.g., frequent injection, intramuscular injection) that put injectors at risk for bacterial infections, a very under-studied, yet common host of infections. Findings from these studies helped guide the development of a new risk reduction intervention with IDUs aimed at reducing both bacterial and viral infections.

This new intervention (“Skin”) was developed by myself (PI) and researchers at Brown University (Co-I: Michael Stein) and the University of Colorado – Denver Medical School (Project Safe, Co-I: Karen Corsi). It was tested as part of a NIDA-funded RCT (R21 DA026773) conducted in Denver, CO from 2009-2011. The goals of the project were to create a treatment manual, demonstrate feasibility of enrollment and follow-up assessment, determine the incidence of skin abscesses, and prove the practicality and initial efficacy of the intervention.

Overall, the Skin intervention (Phillips et al., 2012; Phillips et al., 2013) appeared very promising as a brief intervention to reduce bacterial and viral risks associated with IDU. The R21 study demonstrated that it is feasible to recruit IDUs for an intervention focused on bacterial infections. A large number of participants (98%) completed both Skin sessions, and 85% returned for their six-month follow-up. Importantly, we demonstrated sustained moderate to large intervention effects on skin and needle cleaning skills, the core of our intervention, as well as lower bacterial infection risk among intervention group participants.

Due to the promise of the Skin intervention, we applied for new funding from NIDA to test the Skin intervention with a larger number of participants (n = 350) in a hospital setting, where the prevalence of injection drug use is high, patients who otherwise might not seek care are accessible, and the presence of a drug-related illness can set the stage for patients to be more receptive to interventions. This study was recently funded (R01 DA034957) and is being conducted at the Boston Medical Center along with collaborators Michael Stein, MD (PI) and Jane M. Liebschutz, MD MPH (Co-I).

Outcomes associated with Marijuana Use among College Students and Studies using Ecological Momentary Assessment

Marijuana use is a substantial problem among young adults in the U.S. and can lead to a number of health-related and cognitive outcomes. Prior studies have found high co-morbidity between cannabis disorders and psychological problems such as mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders, as well as certain personality traits (e.g., impulsivity). When considering young adults, it is not clear whether marijuana use impacts college success or how complex substance use dynamics may operate to impact success.

I have been working with collaborators in educational psychology (Michael Phillips, PhD) and statistics/methodology (Trent Lalonde, PhD) to assess the relationship between marijuana use, craving, and academic motivation among college student marijuana users using ecological momentary assessment (EMA). EMA is a type of methodology that allows researchers to learn about participants “in the moment,” often incorporating novel technologies (e.g., text messaging) to gather information.
In one of our EMA studies with heavy marijuana users, we found excellent compliance (89%) with our 2-week EMA protocol, where participants were texted a series of 9 questions three times per day. Our data suggested that craving for marijuana predicted greater time spent smoking marijuana. High craving was also related to low academic motivation. Students who reported more time smoking marijuana had lower cumulative GPAs. 
My colleagues and I are currently collecting data on a range of marijuana-related factors that may be impacting academic success among university students. Preliminary findings suggest that a majority of college students have a history of marijuana use, with over 40% (in our sample) reporting marijuana use in the last month. With recent changes to the legal status of marijuana in Colorado, it will be important to learn more about marijuana-use factors that may impact college success and motivation for academic work.
Future work in Dr. Phillips’ lab will focus on whether marijuana craving directly impacts cognitive and academic performance among college students. The long-term objective of this research is to learn more about the impact of marijuana use in order to develop new prevention and intervention programs for students.

Courses Taught at UNC

Abnormal Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Introduction to Counseling Theories, Health Psychology, Theories of Counseling (graduate), Psychology of Addiction (graduate and undergraduate)

Teaching Philosophy

My approach to teaching psychology has evolved substantially over time and I feel that I continually strive to re-evaluate the content and manner in which I teach in order to best meet the needs of my students. I have learned, much like in psychotherapy, that different teaching strategies are needed for different objectives and outcomes. I have become more accustomed to using multiple teaching strategies in my courses to engage students and often incorporate collaborative learning and facilitated small group discussions, demonstrations, traditional lecture, guest speakers, in-class case studies, essay exams, and film to facilitate learning. I enjoy working with students at many different levels, including both undergraduate and graduate students, in and outside of the classroom. First and foremost, I believe that learning is an active and collaborative process and students need opportunities to engage with the material and to reflect on its utility outside of the classroom and to their lives. My approach to teaching often varies depending on the experience and knowledge of my students, though I feel there are a number of key principles I adhere to, including a focus on active learning, development of critical thinking skills, peer collaboration, and a focus on learning basic research principles.

Although much of what students learn come from various courses they take, I strongly feel that engaging students in research is an extremely valuable way to educate them about the field of Psychology. For this reason, I often work with a number of students each semester outside of the classroom. I currently run a Motivation and Addiction Research Group with Dr. Michael Phillips and graduate/undergraduate students. Students in my lab are involved in all phases of research, including reviewing the research literature, developing study questions and hypotheses, operationalizing variables, choosing measures, running participants, analyzing data, and summarizing findings. Students often present data from my lab at a range of different conferences, such as APA. I feel that this type of experience is a culmination of many of the topics/skills our students have learned while completing their degree and think it is a great way to help them apply their knowledge to a specific content-area.

Students interested in gaining research experience in the area of addiction or disease prevention should contact me by email (

Recent Grant Support and Submissions

Reduction of Medical Complications Associated With Injection Drug Use
R21 DA026773 (6/15/09 – 9/30/11)
Investigators: Kristina Phillips (PI), Michael Stein (Co-I), and Karen Corsi (Co-I)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) / NIH

Preventing Bacterial and Viral Infections among Injection Drug Users
R01 DA034957 (07/1/13 – 06/30/18)
Investigators: Michael Stein (PI), Kristina Phillips (Co-I), and Jane Liebschutz (Co-I)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) / NIH

Understanding the Dynamics of College Student Marijuana Use: A Study using EMA
Resubmitting in 2014
Investigators: Kristina Phillips (PI), Michael Phillips (PI), and Trent Lalonde (Co-I)
Submitted to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) / NIH

Relevant Professional Activity

Phillips, K.T., Altman, J.K., Corsi, K.F., & Stein, M.D. (2013). Development of a risk
reduction intervention to reduce bacterial and viral infections for injection drug users. Substance Use & Misuse, 48(1-2),54-64.

Phillips, K.T., Stein, M.D., Anderson, B.J., & Corsi, K.F. (2012). Skin and needle hygiene intervention for injection drug users: Results from a randomized, controlled Stage I pilot trial. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 43, 313-321.

Phillips, K.T., & Stein, M.D. (2010). Risk practices associated with bacterial infections among injection drug users in Denver, CO. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36, 92-97.

Phillips, K.T., Anderson, B.J., & Stein, M.D. (2008). Predictors of bacterial infections
among HCV-negative injection drug users in Rhode Island. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 34, 203-210.

Curriculum Vitae