Nearly 1 in 5 women have been the victim of rape (Black et al., 2011), and about 2 in 5 rape victims develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including intrusive memories (Kilpatrick, Resnick, Ruggierio, Conoscenti, &McCauley, 2007). Intrusive memories, which include vivid, distressing thoughts or images of a traumatic event, are a hallmark symptom of PTSD (Foa, Steketee, &Rothbaum, 1989). Intrusive memories and related trauma symptoms are associated with an increased risk of suicide attempts, comorbid mental health diagnoses (Pietrzak, Goldstein, Southwick, &Grant, 2011), and physical health problems (Pacella, Hruska, &Delahanty, 2013). The high prevalence and suffering associated with intrusive memories following a sexual assault underscore the need to understand the etiology of such intrusions. Prior research has examined various risk factors for the development of intrusions following sexual assault (e.g., cognitive processing and memory for the trauma, peritraumatic stress). However, although half of all women who are sexually assaulted are under the influence of alcohol at the time (Abbey, Zawacki, Buck, Clinton, &McAuslan, 2004), little research has examined the role of victim alcohol intoxication in the development of post-assault trauma symptoms. The present study addresses this need by examining the effects of peritraumatic alcohol intoxication on intrusive memories following exposure to an analog trauma in a community sample of women. Drawing on the Alcohol Myopia Model (AMM;Steele &Josephs, 1990) and a prominent cognitive model of PTSD (Ehlers &Clark, 2000), the present investigation examines dose-dependent effects of peritraumatic alcohol intoxication on intrusive memories, as mediated by alcohol myopia, stress responses, cognitive processing style, and disorganization of trauma memories. The study utilizes an experimental design that includes lab-based alcohol administration, a well-accepted analog trauma exposure paradigm (a film with distressing or """"""""traumatic"""""""" content), a daily diary assessment of intrusive memories, and behavioral measures of key constructs (e.g., alcohol myopia, stress response). Overall, alcohol myopia is expected to disrupt cognitive processing and formation of trauma memories, resulting in increased intrusive memories for low levels of intoxication. However, stress-response dampening at high levels of intoxication is expected to reduce intrusive memories. Knowledge gained from this study will clarify the role of alcohol intoxication in the development of intrusive memories and is expected to highlight the importance of prevention and intervention programs aimed at reducing alcohol-involved victimization.
Intrusive memories and associated symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) represent a significant public health problem, often leading to persistent physical and psychological difficulties experienced by victims long after the traumatic event, contributing to healthcare costs and loss of productivity. Research examining etiological factors that contribute to PTSD is needed in order to expand basic knowledge and to inform the development of prevention and intervention strategies. The current project will examine multiple factors that may contribute to the development of intrusive memories, including the physiological and cognitive effects of alcohol intoxication.