UF researchers to study long-term impact of COVID-19 stressors

Dr. Sara Jo Nixon

By Todd Taylor

Some mitigation tactics used to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, have impacted people in a variety of ways. According to early data and self-reporting, these COVID-19 stressors often lead to an increase in loneliness, sleep problems, negative mood and pain, as well as changes in medication and substance use.

Under a new $1.1 million grant awarded by the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a team of UF researchers will launch a study to determine the impact of COVID-19 stressors on the use of various substances, including alcohol, as well as the impact on cognitive abilities among older adults.

The study will include 160 participants ages 65 to 75 who regularly consume alcohol, and the researchers will strive for a representative sample across race and gender.

“The pandemic has left no one untouched. However, older adults and Black, Indigenous and other people of color have been disproportionately impacted. Further, it has been long assumed that women are differentially sensitive to psychosocial stressors,” said Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and director of UF’s Center for Addiction Research and Education, or CARE. “This study is being conducted at an ideal point in time when we can probe not only vulnerabilities but also resiliency and recovery among populations that were hardest hit.”

Nixon and co-investigators Ben Lewis, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry, and Jeff Boissoneault, Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical and health psychology, will integrate assessments of mood, sleep, pain, substance use, exposure to discrimination in daily life and boredom with tests of attention and memory and neurophysiological methods. The three-year longitudinal study will allow the research team to observe resilience as well as vulnerability over time, Nixon said.