The problem of alcohol misuse in adolescence continues to grow despite large-scale public health efforts to reduce both its incidence and prevalence. To enhance prevention efforts, theorists have attempted to understand factors that contribute to the etiology and maintenance of alcohol misuse. There exist several models to understand the personality factors that lead adolescents to alcohol initiation and subsequent misuse. Predominantly, these models focus on some aspect of positive reinforcement, that is, how risk taking is influenced by the novelty, excitement and/or arousal associated with alcohol use. Behavioral measures have been developed to capture snap shots of reward seeking in a less transparent and potentially more accurate way than relevant self-report measures. Despite promising results, these tasks tap only positive reinforcement/reward seeking processes and do not address adolescents'use of alcohol in response to aversive stimuli, including coping with negative feelings or experiences. The importance of the latter is underscored in the negative reinforcement theory of addiction (as well as other related theories such as self- medication and stress-coping). Because tasks like the BART assess riskiness aimed at acquiring some positive effect, they provide no information about riskiness that may underlie alcohol misuse as maintained by negative reinforcement. There are currently no available behavioral instruments that assess negative reinforcement processes underlying riskiness. We propose to develop and validate a negative reinforcement- based task, based on a positive reinforcement-based task we have developed referred to the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART), to increase the comprehensiveness and explanatory power of laboratory risk assessment measures in relation to alcohol and alcohol-related risk behaviors in youth.
The goal of the current application is to develop and validate an assessment tool that focuses on adolescent alcohol use to avoid and/or ameliorate negative emotions and experiences, a process referred to as negative reinforcement. If successful, this task will help understand the role of negative reinforcement processes underlying alcohol use and problems, and may be useful for the development of prevention efforts targeting this vulnerability.
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