Acute alcohol intoxication frequently results in various forms of dysregulated responding including aggression, sexual and other risk taking, alterations in emotional response, and even apparent temporary loss of control over alcohol use itself. Many examples in which alcohol intoxication results in these dysregulated responses are characterized by conflict between strong, but inappropriate, response tendencies and incompatible alternative responses that are more adaptive yet weaker. Similarly, alcohol dependent users frequently experience conflict or ambivalence surrounding their alcohol use and preliminary evidence suggests that they may be impaired in the attention functions that are necessary to adaptively resolve conflict surrounding their alcohol use. In fact, many theorists have speculated that the same attention mechanisms that account for the acute effects of alcohol challenge may also be chronically impaired in individuals with substance use and other externalizing disorders. Moreover, impaired attention may represent a premorbid etiological risk mechanism which accounts for the increased risk for alcohol use disorders among individuals with a family history of alcoholism.
The aim of this research is to confirm and clarify the nature of alcohol challenge and alcoholism family history effects on attention function and to examine the consequences of potential impairment for the regulation of behavior and emotion responding. Recent theory andbasic cognitive neuroscience research hassignificantly advanced andrefined , understanding about the attention processes and underlying neurobiological structures that are necessary for the adaptive regulation of behavior and emotional response during conflict. This basic research has identified discrete functions of the attention system including maintenance of an alert state, sensory orienting, and executive control function responsible for the control of cognitive operations. In particular, executive control attention (and sub-components;evaluative and regulative control) are crucial to overcome contextually maladaptive, strong and/or habitual responding. This theory and research provides the foundation for the proposed research on attention function in intoxicated and family history positive individuals. The five proposed experiments will use electro-physiological measures (e.g., event related brain potentials) and well-validated cognitive paradigms designed to systematically index discrete components of attention function. This will allow mediation tests to determine if predicted alcohol challenge and family history of alcoholism effects on behavior and emotion regulation are the result of impaired attention function.
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