Strong negative emotions may make complex thinking more difficult. Relapse to alcohol drinking following alcohol treatment often occurs when an individual feels strong negative emotions such as sadness, grief or fear. This may be because negative emotions interfere with the aspects of thinking required to use the coping skills that were learned in treatment. This project will test the effects of negative emotions on several aspects of complex thinking among individuals who drink alcohol on a regular basis. Distress tolerance is the ability to experience and withstand negative emotions. People who have low distress tolerance may experience more intense negative emotions in response to a stressful event compared to people with high distress tolerance. People with low distress tolerance may also have greater interference in complex thinking in response to a stressful event compared to people with high distress tolerance. This study will test whether negative emotions interfere with aspects of thinking such as attention, memory, and inhibiting a habitual behavior among individuals with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and whether distress tolerance moderates the effects of negative affect on information processing. Participants will be tested twice in a counterbalanced fashion with affect induction condition (negative vs. neutral) as a within-subjects factor and baseline distress tolerance as a moderator. The second study will investigate whether alcohol cue-induced urges impair information processing among individuals with AUDs, and whether distress tolerance moderates these effects. Participants will be tested twice in a counterbalanced fashion with beverage cue-exposure condition (alcohol vs. neutral) as a within-subjects factor and baseline distress tolerance as a moderator. The results of this study will set the stage for subsequent studies investigating the effects of distress tolerance on self-efficacy, effective use of coping skills and relapse following alcohol treatment. The current study will provide significant new information on the influence of emotions on decision making and will lead to refined models of alcohol relapse. Refined models of relapse clarifying the proximal influences of emotion and cognition on coping effectiveness are needed to identify potential targets for therapeutic intervention. Improving our understanding of the nexus of emotion and cognition is particularly important for the treatment of AUDs, where the majority of patients have either co- occurring psychopathology, cognitive impairment, or both.
This study will provide new knowledge about how unpleasant emotions, such as sadness and urges to drink, interfere with the ability to think clearly in situations that represent high risk for relapse following alcohol treatment. Findings from this study may lead to improved treatments that help people to manage unpleasant emotions, think clearly and allow themselves to take advantage of the coping skills learned in treatment to avoid relapse.