Alcohol use is of great public health concern, costing society nearly $225 billion a year (Bouchery et al., 2011). Women who drink moderately (less than 7 drinks a week, or 3 drinks a day) are at an increased risk for health related complications (e.g., liver disease) as compared to men who drink moderately (NIAAA, 2011). Yet, given the historical bias towards men in the alcohol literature, there is a dearth of research investigating the etiological factors that take part in alcohol use in women (SAMSHA, 2011). Thus, the present study focuses on vulnerability and protective factors that influence alcohol use in women. In freely-cycling women, every month is marked by hormonal variation associated with the menstrual cycle. In particular the luteal phase (pre- menstrual period) of the menstrual cycle is characterized by increased stress reactivity (Lustyk et al., 2010). Given the intricate relationship between stress and alcohol use (Sinha, 2008), one would expect that the luteal phase be associated with increased vulnerability for alcohol use in women. However, the small extent of research on cycle phase and alcohol use to date has been mixed- likely due to methodological issues (Douglas et al., 2013). Thus the present study aims to rigorously and systematically investigate cycle phase variation in alcohol use. Other regulatory systems and dispositional factors may also influence alcohol use in women. It appears that most human decision making is governed by two regulatory systems that drives the choice for smaller, more immediate rewards (impulsive system) or larger, more delayed rewards (executive control;Bechara, 2005). Thus, a woman's proclivity to use alcohol to cope with stress and/or negative emotionality during the luteal phase may be regulated by impulsive systems, where a woman's ability to cope with stress more effectively may be managed by executive control. One dispositional factor that is important to consider in determining whether a woman will drink to cope is mindfulness, or the ability to pay attention in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is associated with lower alcohol use (Fernandez et al., 2010) and is theorized to augment executive control (Brewer et al., 2010) and diminish impulsive systems (Peters et al., 2011). So, women with higher dispositional mindfulness may have more access to executive control function that facilitates healthier coping during the luteal phase. Therefore, the present study uses mixed objective and self-reported methodological measures of impulsive systems (e.g., delay discounting), executive control (e.g., cardiac vagal control), and mindfulness to examine the influence of regulatory systems and dispositional factors on the relation between cycle phase and alcohol use. The proposed study will provide valuable insight into the understudied arena of etiological factors involved in women and alcohol use and provide training to an up-and-coming young researcher.
The proposed research project aligns with the NIAAA strategic plan and mission statement in that it investigates alcohol use in young adult women to further understand etiological factors that contribute to problematic drinking as a step to inform prevention and treatment programs for women. The proposed project investigates alcohol use in young women as related to menstrual cycle phase and psychophysiological psychological factors. The proposed training plan also provides ethical, methodological, and clinical training for a promising researcher to continue to investigate alcohol use in women.