Title

Alcohol Use in College Students as a Function of Reinforcement Sensitivity, Life Events, and Affect

Publication Date

2010

Document Type

Article

Abstract

Mood has been commonly viewed as an important determinant of drinking, but studies of positive and negative affect and alcohol use have reported inconsistent results. It has been suggested that the relationship between negative affect and heavy drinking or drinking problems depends on individual vulnerability dimensions such as personality. Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) may provide a particularly useful framework in studies about alcohol use, connecting personality, motivational processes, and responses to environmental stimuli. In past studies, the sensitivity of Gray’s Behavioral Activation System (BAS) has been linked to alcohol use, but results have been less consistent for the Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS). The aim of this study was to test the relationships among the BAS/BIS, life events, affect, and alcohol use in college students. Considering the methodological limitations in previous studies, two studies were performed. In Study 1, 317 college students who reported alcohol use in the previous 6 months completed self-report measures of the BAS/BIS, life events, affect, and alcohol use (e.g., frequency of alcohol use, alcohol-related problems). BAS sensitivity was significantly related to heavy drinking, but not to drinking problems. Conversely, BIS sensitivity was positively and significantly associated with drinking problems, but negatively with heavy drinking. In the path analysis, the path from the BAS to heavy drinking was significant, and the path from the BAS to drinking problems was marginally and indirectly significant via the path from heavy drinking to drinking problems. Conversely, the path from the interaction between the BIS and negative life events to drinking problems was indirectly significant via negative affect, and the path from the interaction between the BIS and negative life events to heavy drinking problems was marginally and negatively significant via negative affect. In Study 2, 134 college students who showed either BAS or BIS dominance were recruited and randomly assigned to the reward or punishment task. The BAS-dominant subgroup assigned to the reward task and the BIS-dominant subgroup assigned to the punishment task showed higher urge to drink than other subgroups. The BAS-dominant subgroup assigned to the reward task did not show a higher positive urge to drink than other subgroups, while the BIS-dominant subgroup assigned to the punishment task showed a higher negative urge to drink than other subgroups. The results lend correlational and experimental support to the idea that both BAS and BIS sensitivity are related to alcohol use. Further, this study clarified differential paths to alcohol use for the BAS and BIS: BAS sensitivity motivates drinking in response to reward, while BIS sensitivity enhances vulnerability to drinking in response to negative affect.

First Page

190

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