Researcher shares insight on loneliness and problem drinking within the Hispanic community

In 2018, the government of the United Kingdom created the captivatingly singular position of “Minister of Loneliness,” validating that loneliness is a “real and diagnosable scourge.” No modern malaise, loneliness has been studied by psychologists for centuries. That study continues at the University of Houston where Jaye Derrick, associate professor of psychology and director of the Social Processes Lab, has new research underway exploring why Hispanic individuals in the United States experience higher levels of loneliness compared to their white counterparts, and how those factors result in hazardous drinking.

Derrick joined KPRC 2+ at 7 a.m. to share insight into her research.

“We believe that conflicts between Hispanic individuals’ cultural orientation and the cultural orientation of people around them contribute to decreases in perceived social connection, leading to loneliness,” said Derrick, whose research is underwritten by a $2.9 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Our objective is to identify predictors of loneliness in hazardous-drinking Hispanic individuals and shed light on the link between loneliness and the development of problem drinking within this population.”

The research will also examine the proposition that loneliness-driven solitary drinking exacerbates feelings of loneliness, resulting in an acceleration of alcohol use and alcohol-related issues over time. By exploring the underlying social-cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, and cultural mechanisms contributing to loneliness and alcohol problems, Derrick hopes to provide crucial insights into Hispanic disparities in loneliness.

To achieve their objectives, the research team will use a longitudinal ecological momentary assessment (EMA) “burst” design among 200 hazardous-drinking Hispanic individuals from the Houston community. The EMA bursts will occur every six months for two years. Data will be collected via self-report, cognitive-behavioral tasks, wearable alcohol sensors, and geotagging.

This project is expected to contribute detailed conceptual information about the mechanisms, processes, and trajectories involved in social connectedness and isolation.

“This research holds the potential to generate valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms linking loneliness and problem drinking among Hispanic individuals. By addressing this critical knowledge gap, the findings from this study will contribute to the development of targeted interventions and strategies to improve the well-being and health outcomes of Hispanic communities,” said Derrick.