This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) encourages exploratory and developmental research to better understand the role of social connectedness and/or loneliness in prevention, treatment and recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs). Research may use a variety of approaches, including leveraging existing data sources, survey research, social network analysis, new methods development, feasibility research, etc. Outcomes of interest include any of the following: substance use initiation, escalation, SUD diagnosis, connection to treatment, and engagement or retention in treatment or recovery.
It has been well established that loneliness and a lack of social connectedness are associated with a wide range of physical and mental health problems including depression, anxiety, heart disease, and alcohol, tobacco and drug use. A recent meta-analysis of 70 studies found that loneliness increases odds of mortality by 29%.
Multiple recent national surveys have found that over a third of respondents report feelings of loneliness and Covid-related restrictions have exacerbated the problem. The U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has called loneliness a public health crisis, and said that “we will not solve the addiction problem in America if we don’t address social connection.” There is some evidence that loneliness is more prevalent in people with substance use disorders as compared to the general population and seems to be a particularly salient risk factor for women and young adults. The protective value of social connectedness is supported by animal models. In laboratory experiments, rats show a preference for social interaction over heroin, a finding that holds even for rats who are addicted to heroin.
Studies in aging, depression, and physical disability literature have demonstrated that ameliorating loneliness and enhancing social connectedness can improve a range of outcomes. There is evidence at every stage in the continuum of addiction (initiation and escalation of use, treatment engagement, and recovery) that strong social bonds are important. Loneliness is associated with opioid misuse and opioid use disorders and is a trigger for relapse. Social connectedness has been associated with improved retention in treatment and recovery outcomes. Yet, loneliness and social connection have been largely overlooked as key moderators or mediators of effective interventions or as targets for intervention themselves in the field of addiction.
Definitional Issues & Scope: For the purposes of this FOA, “social connectedness” encompasses both perceived and actual connections to others, as well as an individual’s perception of belongingness to social groups or networks. The definition of “loneliness,” however, only encompasses an individual’s perception and feeling of belonging. Other definitions of loneliness and social connectedness exist and may be relevant to this FOA. In addition, related concepts, such as social isolation, social capital, social networks, social inclusion, belonging, and social support may also be relevant to this FOA. Related concepts may be included, but studies should also plan to measure social connectedness and/or loneliness. NIDA encourages the use of common measures for assessing social connectedness and loneliness to enable comparisons and pooling of data across studies. For studies that involve self-report, the NIH PhenX Toolkit recommends the 20-item UCLA loneliness scale.
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Filed Under: Funding Opportunities