Overview: A person’s mood, in addition to alcohol-related cues, contributes to alcohol cravings in opposite ways in men and women.
Source: Alcoholism Research Association
Drinkers’ mood swings and exposure to alcohol-related cues — beer cans, bars and drinking buddies — contribute in opposite ways to alcohol cravings for men and women, a new study suggests.
The findings have implications for how men and women develop dangerous drinking habits and ways to prevent or treat them.
Some theories link alcohol consumption to positive and negative emotions: drinking to improve a good mood or to deal with stress, possibly turning it into a self-reinforcing cycle.
However, studies have produced mixed findings, suggesting that mood interacts with unconscious cognitive processes to drive alcohol seeking. These subconscious processes include attentional bias; heavy drinkers are especially attuned to alcohol-related stimuli (sights, smells and interactions that remind them of drinking).
Previous research suggests that attentional bias can shift quickly, interacting with emotion to generate instant drug cravings, and that these effects can vary through psychological and social factors associated with biological sex.
For the study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental ResearchResearchers at the University of Central Florida examined how paying attention to alcohol-related cues influences momentary craving and the influence of mood and biological sex.
The researchers used data from 69 college drinkers, ages 18-29, who had no mood, anxiety, substance use, or psychotic illness. Two of the three were female and 91% were white.
The participants wore a digital tablet for up to 15 days and responded to ratings of their current mood and drinking, a process that yielded 4,010 readings. The ratings were related to mood (eg, “How nervous/sad/happy do you feel right now?”) and alcohol craving (eg, “How strong is your urge to drink alcohol right now?”).
The participants’ attentional bias was assessed by a visual task with alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related stimuli. The researchers used statistical analysis to examine associations between the participants’ current mood, alcohol cravings, and attentional bias.
Positive mood was associated with transient alcohol cravings, consistent with the theory that elevated mood promotes drinking (the affect regulation model). However, the associations took opposite forms for men and women.
In men, the association between their attention to alcohol cues and their craving for alcohol became stronger when they experienced temporary mood boosts. In women, this association became stronger during short-term mood swings (“low positive”).
A different process may play a role in women with a low positive mood: cravings related to the positive feelings of a drug can turn into negative feelings of craving for that drug (stimulus sensitization theory).
This is the first study to find such an association in humans and may add to evidence that women are more likely to develop addiction-like behavioral traits than men.
The study provides further evidence of gender differences in attention and alcohol cravings — a phenomenon that may reflect the varying cognitive processing of attentional versus social cues in men and women.
The findings underscore the impact of mood on attentional bias and alcohol craving. Interventions aimed at shifting attention from alcoholic cues to reduce cravings may be important in the treatment of alcohol use disorders and may produce different results in men and women.
Additional research is needed on whether the study results apply to different populations and to further investigate gender differences in mood, attentional bias, and cravings.
About this alcohol consumption and mood research news
Author: press office
Source: Alcoholism Research Association
Contact: Press Service – Alcoholism Research Association
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original research: Closed access.
“Attention bias and alcohol craving: differential effects via biological sex and mood” by Katie R. Moskal et al. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Attentional bias and alcohol craving: differential effects via biological sex and mood
Attentional bias (AB) has been associated with alcohol consumption, mood, and alcohol craving, with important differences between different mood types and biological sex. However, further research into the role of AB in these alcohol variables is needed. The present study examined the relationship between mood and AB as predictors of alcohol craving using ecological momentary assessment (EMA). Exploratory analysis examined these effects as a function of biological sex.
Attendees (n = 69) from a Midwestern university carried a mobile device for 15 days and gave assessments of transient mood (positive mood, anxious mood, and sad mood), alcohol craving, and AB. Data were analyzed using a two-level, multi-level regression model, examining associations between craving, mood, and AB at both the temporal and between-subject levels.
In all assessments, positive and negative moods were positively associated with transient desire, with AB acting differently between men and women. At the within-subject level, increases in positive mood in males enhanced AB craving association, while females showed stronger AB craving associations when positive mood decreased. At the between-subject level, trait-like sadness in men led to positive associations with AB craving, but for women it was the opposite. Similarly, associations with the desire for AB were positive and robust for men with trait-like positive mood, but again the opposite was observed for women.
The findings highlight the importance and nuances of biological sex in the context of mood, AB and desire. Interventions targeting AB and/or emotion regulation may yield different outcomes for men and women.