Negative Mood-Induced Alcohol-Seeking Is Greater in Young Adults Who Report Depression Symptoms, Drinking to Cope, and Subjective Reactivity

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Acute negative mood powerfully motivates alcohol-seeking behavior, but it remains unclear whether sensitivity to this effect is greater in drinkers who report depression symptoms, drinking to cope, and subjective reactivity. To examine these questions, 128 young adult alcohol drinkers (ages 18–25) completed questionnaires of alcohol use disorder symptoms, depression symptoms, and drinking to cope with negative affect. Baseline alcohol choice was measured by preference to enlarge alcohol versus food thumbnail images in two-alternative forced-choice trials. Negative mood was then induced by depressive statements and music, before alcohol choice was tested. Subjective reactivity was indexed by increased sadness pre- to post-mood induction. Baseline alcohol choice correlated with alcohol dependence symptoms (p = .001), and drinking coping motives (ps ≤ .01). Mood induction increased alcohol choice and subjective sadness overall (ps < .001). The mood-induced increase in alcohol choice was associated with depression symptoms (p = .007), drinking to cope (ps ≤ .03), and subjective reactivity (p = .007). The relationship between mood-induced alcohol choice and drinking to cope remained significant after covarying for other drinking motives. Furthermore, the three predictors (depression, drinking to cope, and subjective reactivity) accounted for unique variance in mood-induced alcohol choice (ps ≥ .03), and collectively accounted for 18% of the variance (p < .001). These findings validate the pictorial alcohol choice task as sensitive to the relative value of alcohol and acute negative mood. The findings also accord with the core prediction of negative reinforcement theory that sensitivity to the motivational impact of negative mood on alcohol-seeking behavior may be an important mechanism that links depression and alcohol dependence.

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