Background: Theory implies that individuals who use alcohol to cope with negative emotions experience the acute mood-altering effects they desire. However, no study to date has directly tested whether alcohol coping motives map onto alcohol-induced changes in mood in real-time or how co-occurring internalizing symptoms (i.e., depression and anxiety) impact the relation between coping motives and alcohol-induced changes in mood.
Method: The current study tested the unique and interactive effects of alcohol coping motives and internalizing symptoms on mood changes during drinking using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) in a sample of young adults (n=257). Participants completed a battery of questionnaires and a 7-day EMA assessment protocol.
Results: In general, alcohol use was associated with greater positive mood and reduced negative mood while drinking. However, individuals who reported that they use alcohol to cope with anxiety, but not depression, experienced less mood benefits from alcohol relative to those without mood coping motives. In contrast, individuals with high internalizing symptoms experienced greater mood benefits while drinking relative to those with low levels of internalizing symptoms; and at high levels of anxiety, alcohol consumption was reinforcing for everyone regardless of coping motives. Only at low levels of anxiety symptoms, did coping with anxiety motives attenuate alcohol's acute reinforcing effects.
Conclusions: These results together confirm that alcohol has a robust impact on real-time mood in young adults and sheds light on the processes that may contribute to repeated alcohol use within individuals who do, and do not, use alcohol as a means of coping.
Keywords: Alcohol coping motives; Anxiety; Depression; Ecological momentary assessment.
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