The Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research gained two new affiliate faculty members: Fiona Conway, Assistant Professor in the Steven Hicks School of Social Work, and Deborah Jacobvitz, Professor and Phyllis L. Richards Endowed Professor of Child Development in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences.
Dr. Conway completed her postdoctoral training at the Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies (CAS) at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she investigated how substance use affects involuntary physiological responses in the brain and heart. At CAS, Conway witnessed the value of a collaborative research environment and upon her arrival at UT in 2018 she was eager to join the multidisciplinary research programs in the Waggoner Center.
Conway’s research involves the development, testing, and implementation of interventions to reduce harmful effects of risky substance use behaviors and mental health disorders. She specifically focuses on Digital Therapeutics (DTx)—use of software programs to deliver interventions for physical and behavioral health disorders. One of her current projects, funded by the Texas Health & Human Services Commission, involves implementing smartphone app interventions to assist people in recovery from opioid use disorder by managing their stress, anxiety, and drug cravings. Conway notes that an important part of her work is to deliver interventions using consumer-ready software and systems, as this “circumvents delays that would otherwise occur due to the need for extensive or specialized training before practitioners can use them with clients.” Conway plans to continue leveraging platforms readily available to the public, such as cell phone or virtual reality gaming systems, to create innovative tools to treat substance use disorders (SUDs). She sees her work making “an impact on the future of collaboration between social scientists, biological scientists, and software engineers.”
Dr. Jacobvitz completed her PhD in child psychology from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota before joining the faculty at UT Austin. She joined the Waggoner Center in 2018 because it was an “intellectual hub for research and collaboration” on addiction research.
Jacobvitz‘s research is aimed at developing interventions to support children and families affected by SUDs. She uses genetic, biological, and family interaction assessments to investigate the biological and developmental underpinnings of SUDs. One of Jacobvitz’s projects explores the influence of children’s early family experiences on later health and well-being, including increasing the risk of alcohol use disorder. Another investigates the role of stress in SUDs and how family support can reduce the likelihood that at-risk women will develop drinking problems. An important aspect of Jacobvitz’s work is the focus on female drinking behavior and the role that the family dynamic can play in elevating the risk that women will drink.
Jacobvitz is excited to be a part of the Waggoner Center because it “connects colleagues across the UT campus who are committed to generating fundamental knowledge about the effects of alcohol use on health and well-being” leading to improved treatment for patients and prevention strategies for their children.