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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Alcohol stress response dampening: selective reduction of anxiety in the face of uncertain threat

Problematic alcohol use and stress response dampening (SRD) are intimately interconnected. Recent evidence suggests that alcohol produces selective SRD during uncertain but not certain threat.

We systematically varied shock probability in a novel task assessing alcohol SRD during low probable/uncertain threat, while holding temporal precision of threat constant. Intoxicated (0.08% target blood alcohol concentration) and placebo participants completed a cued shock threat task in which probability of shock administration at the offset of brief visual cues varied parametrically. High probability (100%) shock cues represented certain threat as used in earlier research, while lower probability (20% and 60%) shock cues provided novel uncertain threat conditions. Startle potentiation during cues and inter-trial intervals (ITIs) served as the measure of affective response.

General linear model analysis indicated that alcohol SRD magnitude increased monotonically as threat uncertainty increased. Alcohol SRD was significantly greater during 20% and 60% shock threat relative to 100% shock threat. Alcohol also significantly reduced startle potentiation during distal threat in shock-free ITIs. Alcohol SRD magnitude during distal/uncertain threat was meaningfully moderated by individual differences in negative affectivity and weekly alcohol consumption.

This work advances understanding of which properties of uncertainty are relevant to anxiety and anxiolytic effects of alcohol

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