Negative emotionality may make some people more prone to alcohol or other drug problems

December 14, 2012

Prior research has shown that sensitivity to the stimulating effects of alcohol and other drugs is a risk marker for heavy or problematic use of those substances. Prior research has also shown that the personality trait of negative emotionality can have an effect on substance use. A new study examining how the response to an amphetamine interacts with negative emotionality to influence alcohol and drug use has found that a high level of negative emotionality may lead to problem drinking when it occurs together with sensitivity to a drug-based reward.

Results will be published in the April 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"Alcohol is commonly thought of as a sedative; in sufficient amounts, it slows people's mental and physical reactions," explained Frances H. Gabbay, research assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, as well as corresponding author for the study. "However, alcohol also has positive, stimulating effects that are particularly noticeable a short time after someone starts drinking. People differ in their sensitivity to these effects. Some may find that drinking alcohol makes them feel excited, energetic, and talkative while others may feel down, sluggish, and sedated. Heavy drinkers and those with a family history of alcoholism tend to report greater stimulant effects compared to light drinkers and those with no such family history."

"Prior research has consistently demonstrated a strong relationship between personality dimensions of sensation seeking and impulsivity and the initiation of drug and alcohol use, and emerging literature relates urgency, or emotion-based rash action, to heavy and problematic drug and alcohol use," added Thomas H. Kelly, Robert Straus Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Kentucky. "Negative emotionality is a distinct personality dimension from urgency. This study ... extends the previous literature in demonstrating that the development of heavy alcohol use is associated with sensitivity to d-amphetamine in combination with negative emotionality, suggesting it is important to examine risk factors and their interaction within the context of the stage of drug use."

"Negative emotionality is a personality trait that refers to the frequency and intensity with which individuals experience anger, stress, or sadness," said Gabbay. "Feelings such as these may encourage people to act impulsively or irrationally, engaging in behavior they find rewarding in the short-term without fully considering its risks. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the combined effects of personality and the response to any drug on substance use."

Researchers recruited 192 participants (99 women, 93 men), 18 to 25 years old, who completed the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ) to assess negative emotionality, and answered questions pertaining to alcohol and other drug use. The participants then received 10 mg d-amphetamine, and their self-reported drug effects were assessed. The researchers then evaluated the relationship between the subjective response to amphetamine and MPQ negative emotionality on the measures of substance use.

"This work supports the idea that the amount of alcohol people drink is at least partly determined by differences in personality and responsiveness to drugs," said Gabbay. "Specifically, our study suggests that people who are sensitive to the stimulating effects of a low dose of amphetamine and who also experience powerful negative moods may be prone to drink excessively. Negative emotions may motivate a desire for immediate reward, which we believe encourages heavy drinking among people who are sensitive to the rewarding effects of drugs. Individuals who find drugs less rewarding may not be tempted to drink when they experience negative emotions. We also found an association between the reaction to amphetamine and the use of illicit substances, which suggests that people who are sensitive to the rewarding effects of one type of drug may be more likely to use other drugs."

Gabby noted that prior research has shown that most drugs increase midbrain dopamine, and that this increase is related to their stimulating effects. Since amphetamine has a strong and somewhat specific influence on this neurotransmitter system, it may be an indicator of the response to drug rewards more generally.

"While previous studies have suggested an association between behavioral sensitivity to d-amphetamine effects and the initiation of drug and alcohol use, this study provides perhaps the strongest evidence of the association," added Kelly. "The interaction between negative emotionality and behavioral sensitivity to the stimulant effects of d-amphetamine on the development of heavy alcohol use was both unexpected and clinically significant."

"Past research on the role of negative emotionality in the development of alcohol use disorders has yielded mixed findings," added Gabbay. "Our results suggest that inconsistencies may have been partially due to the moderating effect of individual differences in drug responsiveness. "In short, who experience particularly strong mood-enhancing effects of alcohol and drugs may be more likely to develop problems with those substances if they use them to cope with their negative emotions. Those who find themselves relying on alcohol to enhance their mood may benefit from planning alternative pleasurable activities that can be easily pursued in times of distress, such as listening to music or exercise."

Kelly concurred. "These data provide a new perspective on interpreting risk factors for alcohol use and could inform prevention and intervention strategies in the future," he said. "These data suggest that risk factors associated with early experimentation and occasional use of alcohol and drugs may be different from those associated with the development of escalating patterns of use leading to problems, with individuals demonstrating characteristics of impulsivity and negative emotionality being at increased risk for developing patterns of heavy use. Parents should keep in mind, however, that while risk factors provide statistical prediction, they have limited predictive utility at the clinical case level. Personality is only a subset of factors that can influence the trajectories of alcohol use."
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. The co-author of the ACER paper, "The Amphetamine Response Moderates the Relationship between Negative Emotionality and Alcohol Use," was Kenneth J.D. Allen of the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. This release is supported by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network at

Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

Related Alcohol Articles from Brightsurf:

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown
One in four adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued: 14% reported drinking more alcohol and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.

Changes in hospitalizations for alcohol use disorder in US
Changes over nearly two decades in the rate of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths from alcohol use disorder in the US were examined in this study.

Associations of alcohol consumption, alcohol-induced passing out with risk of dementia
The risk of future dementia associated with overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-induced loss of consciousness in a population of current drinkers was examined in this observational study with more than 131,000 adults.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

Does estrogen influence alcohol use disorder?
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice.

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.

Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.

Read More: Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to