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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Reinforcing Efficacy of Alcohol Mediates Associations Between Impulsivity and Negative Drinking Outcomes

One predictor of negative drinking outcomes in college populations is impulsivity. Individual differences in the reinforcing efficacy of alcohol, which reflects willingness to drink despite potential costs, may serve as a mechanism by which impulsivity is associated with alcohol-related problems. The purpose of this study was to determine whether two measures of the reinforcing efficacy of alcohol—demand intensity (consumption when drinks are free) and Omax (maximum expenditure on alcohol)—statistically mediated the associations between four facets of impulsivity and negative drinking outcomes.

We gave 202 undergraduate social drinkers a hypothetical task in which they indicated how many drinks they would consume across a range of prices. They also completed measures of impulsivity, alcohol use, and alcohol-related problems.

Path models revealed that two facets of impulsivity—sensation seeking and urgency—were associated with higher reinforcing efficacy and worse alcohol problems. Moreover, the associations between both of these impulsivity facets and alcohol-related problems were sequentially mediated by reinforcing efficacy and alcohol use.

Individuals who respond impulsively to negative emotions or have sensation-seeking tendencies may exhibit greater willingness to consume and purchase alcohol. As a result, they may in fact drink more, leading to worse drinking-related problems. These findings suggest a need for more research into the mechanisms of interventions that successfully reduce problem drinking. They also indicate that more study is needed on whether decreasing the availability of low-cost alcohol reduces alcohol-related problems in impulsive individuals.

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