Category: PTSD

PS7- #A15 - The Role of Alcohol and Distress Tolerance in the Relationship Between Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms and Alcohol Use

Friday, Nov 17
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) | Alcohol | Distress Tolerance

Positive alcohol expectancies (e.g. beliefs that alcohol will reduce tension related to trauma symptoms) have been shown to influence the relationship between posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and alcohol use (Hruska & Delahunty 2012; Pedersen, Myers, Browne, & Norman, 2014; Vik, Islam-Zwart, & Ruge, 2008).  Distress tolerance represents a related domain of study in the relationship between PTSS and alcohol use.  Previous research has found that individuals with lower distress tolerance are more likely to use alcohol after experiencing a traumatic event (Duranceau, Fetzner, Carleston, 2014; Marshall-Berenz, Vujanovic, MacPherson, 2011).  The current study investigated the moderating effects of alcohol expectancies and distress tolerance on the relationship between PTSS and alcohol use in a sample of individuals with history of trauma (n = 232, White = 61%).  Positive alcohol expectancies were shown to be a significant moderator of the relationship between PTSS and alcohol use (b = -.005, p = .011) at all levels of distress tolerance.  Additionally, the three-way interaction of PTSS, distress tolerance, and positive alcohol expectancies was significant (b = -.003, p = .032), such that with high positive alcohol expectancies, greater PTSS and lower distress tolerance was significantly associated with more alcohol use.  Results indicate that it is likely a combination of a reduced ability to withstand distressing emotions, as well as an expectation of the tension reducing abilities of alcohol, that lead to increased alcohol use for those who have experienced trauma.  A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms in the relationship between PTSS and alcohol use can have important implications for treatment of these co-occurring disorders.  

Sara Himmerich

Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student
Northern Illinois University
Dekalb, Illinois

Holly K. Orcutt

Full Professor
Northern Illinois University