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.
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student
Northern Illinois University