Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying alcohol use in non-college young adults

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization excessive alcohol consumption is the third cause of preventable death in the United States. Compared to all other age groups, the prevalence of periodic heavy or high-risk drinking is greatest among young adults aged 18 to 24.  Earlier studies have shown that the prevalence of alexithymia (a disturbance of the experience and expression of emotions) in alcohol dependents fluctuates between 45 to 67%, almost four times the prevalence on the general population. Evidence suggest that experiencing heightened negative or positive affect, should be considered a key framework for examining potential underlying mechanisms of the relationship between alexithymia (ALX) and risky alcohol use (RAU). Recent neurocognitive studies suggest ALX as a deficit in cognitive processing (DICP) of the regulation of emotions. Other studies have shown that the combination of negative emotion and deficits in the ability to regulate emotion has implications for the development, maintenance, and recovery from alcohol problems. In addition, the odds of alcohol abuse or dependence are four times higher in persons with mood disorders as well (NIAAA, 2009). Despite the importance of emotions conveyed through the auditory channel in social interactions, few studies have examined their processing in ALX using nonverbal emotional vocalizations (NEV).  Moreover, the literature reflects no alcohol intervention or prevention study that have evaluated DICP and emotion regulation using nonverbal emotional vocalizations (NEV) and their relationship with the above variables among those at higher risk for developing alcohol abuse or dependence, the young adult population among 18 to 34 years of age. The scarcity of studies is even more evident among non-college young adults since substantial percent of the results obtained from previous studies are based on college students’ or alcohol dependent samples. Using nonverbal emotional vocalizations (NEV) and facial expressions as cognitive tasks to evaluate nonverbal stimuli, the study aims to identify DICP of the emotion regulation, and explore their relationship with ALX, negative mood and alcohol consumption in non-college young adults. Our specific aims are as follows: 1) Identify the relationship between DICP (as measured by the cognitive tasks using NEV and facial expressions) for emotion regulation and ALX, RAU and negative moods (as measured by self-reports questionnaires). We expect a positive relation among DICP related to emotion regulation and ALX, RAU and negative moods in non-college young adults; 2) identify the contribution of DICP, ALX, emotion regulation and negative mood to the RAU variance in non-college young adults. We expect that each of these predictors explain some of the variance in RAU independently while the others are constant in the model; and 3) Preliminary test for ALX and negative moods as mediators between DICP for emotion regulation and RAU. We expect that ALX and negative moods, despite their significant relationship with RAU, mediate the relation between DICP and RAU.


Carmen Rivera-Medina, Ph.D., clrivera@ipsi.uprrp.edu

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