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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Drinking to Dampen Affect Variability: Findings From a College Student Sample

We hypothesized that individuals who are unable to effectively regulate emotional reactivity, which we operationalized as variability in self-reported affect throughout the day, would use alcohol more frequently and would report higher levels of drinking to cope. Further, we hypothesized that affect variation would be a stronger predictor of alcohol use or drinking to cope than level of negative affect.

A total of 86 college-age students (53% female, 77% White) participated in an intensive longitudinal study for 28 days. Participants reported positive and negative affect thrice daily and reported alcohol use once daily. Participant coping motives were assessed at study initiation.

Affect variability predicted increased drinking frequency and higher levels of self-reported drinking to cope. Mean level of negative affect was not related to an increased probability of drinking, nor was it related to self-reported drinking to cope. Both individual differences in affect variation and intra-individual daily fluctuations in affect were associated with an increased likelihood of drinking.

Our results imply that individuals with higher-than-average levels of affect variation are at risk for high levels of alcohol involvement and that people are more likely to drink on days characterized by higher-than-normal levels of fluctuation in affect. Future studies on self-medication should consider negative affect variability in addition to—or instead of—level of negative affect.

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