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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Alcohol selectively impairs negative self-relevant associations in young drinkers

The stress-dampening effects of alcohol have been attributed to ‘appraisal disruption’− decreased ability of stimuli to evoke threatening associations in memory. Appraisal disruption could apply to oneself as well as situational stimuli.

This question was investigated in undergraduate drinkers (
n = 90/Gender) with low or high anxiety sensitivity (AS; n = 90/AS Group), a trait linked with hyper-vigilance to threat. Subjects received alcohol (0.7 g/kg males; 0.63 g/kg females), placebo or soft drink and performed a speech about their appearance. Sequence of drink administration and speech advisory (threat) was manipulated between subjects: Threat before Drink, Threat after Drink, No-Threat Control. The Implicit Association Test measured self-relevant associations based upon time to classify positive and negative attribute words (e.g. Cute, Ugly) paired with self-relevant or non-self-relevant object words (e.g. Me, Them).

Alcohol selectively slowed negative self-relevant decisions, regardless of other factors. Relative fluency of negative versus positive decisions (
D) correlated inversely with state anxiety and systolic blood pressure immediately before speech performance, and correlated directly with severity of alcohol problems.

These findings are consistent with the Appraisal Disruption hypothesis. Preferential impairment of negative self-relevant associations may decrease perceived vulnerability under alcohol and increase risk for alcohol problems in young drinkers.

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