How people experience and respond to their distress predicts problem drinking more than does the amount of distress

Emily A. Atkinson, Sarah J. Peterson, Elizabeth N. Riley, Heather A. Davis, Gregory T. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Although broad dispositional negative affect predicts problematic alcohol use, emerging evidence suggests that individual differences in how people experience and respond to negative affect may play an important role in risk. In a sample of 358 college students assessed twice across their first year of college, the current study investigated the predictive roles of trait negative affect, affective lability (the tendency to experience rapid and intense shifts in mood), negative urgency (the tendency to act rashly when highly emotional), and problem drinking via self-report measures completed online. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling (SEM). Individual differences in how negative affect is experienced and responded to, represented by affective lability and negative urgency, predicted problem drinking above and beyond trait negative affect, and trait negative affect had no incremental predictive power. Additionally, affective lability predicted increases in negative urgency, but the opposite was not true. A focus on characteristic ways in which individuals experience and respond to negative affect, rather than negative affect itself, may improve risk assessment and clarify the etiology of problem drinking. Continued work toward the development of comprehensive affect-based risk models for problem drinking is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106959
JournalAddictive Behaviors
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by NIAAA grants F31AA027960 and T32AA027488 , NIMH grant T32MH08276 , and the Lipman Foundation. The above funding bodies had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [grant numbers F31AA027960 , T32AA027488 ]; the National Institute of Mental Health [grant number T32 MH08276 ]; and the Lipman Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Affective lability
  • Negative affect
  • Negative urgency
  • Problem drinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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