Negative Urgency, Distress Tolerance, and substance abuse among college students

Alison J. Kaiser, Richard Milich, Donald R. Lynam, Richard J. Charnigo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Objective: Negative affect has been consistently linked with substance use/problems in prior research. The present study sought to build upon these findings by exploring how an individual's characteristic responding to negative affect impacts substance abuse risk. Trait negative affect was examined in relation to substance abuse outcomes along with two variables tapping into response to negative affect: Distress Tolerance, an individual's perceived ability to tolerate negative affect, and Negative Urgency, the tendency to act rashly while experiencing distress. Method: Participants were 525 first-year college students (48.1% male, 81.1% Caucasian), who completed self-report measures assessing personality traits and alcohol-related problems, and a structured interview assessing past and current substance use. Relations were tested using Zero-Inflated Negative Binomial regression models, and each of the personality variables was tested in a model on its own, and in a model where all three traits were accounted for. Results: Negative Urgency emerged as the best predictor, relating to every one of the substance use outcome variables even when trait negative affect and Distress Tolerance were accounted for. Conclusions: These findings suggest that Negative Urgency is an important factor to consider in developing prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing substance use and problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1075-1083
Number of pages9
JournalAddictive Behaviors
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by NIDA grant DA005312. NIDA had no role in the study design, collection, analysis, or interpretation of data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.


  • Alcohol
  • Distress Tolerance
  • Negative Urgency
  • Negative affect
  • Substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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