Individual differences in subjective response to alcohol : associated factors and alternative assessment strategies
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Individual differences in subjective response to alcohol have been implicated as a risk factor for the development of alcohol use disorders. There are, however, a variety of ethical, legal, and practical considerations surrounding alcohol administration studies which limit the extent to which this marker can be used to identify those believed to be at greater risk. The current research contains two related laboratory studies with the overall goal of identifying valid and reliable correlates of individual differences in subjective response to alcohol that can be used to discern emerging adults at greater risk for problematic drinking. Study 1 evaluated the associations between the actual subjective experience of a moderate dose of alcohol (BAC .08%) and three domains of potential correlates: anticipated subjective response based on a hypothetical drinking scenario (targeted .08% BAC); response to other physiological and perceptual challenges (e.g., CO₂ challenge, spinning challenge); and indices of cognitive impairment implicated as risk factors for the development of alcohol use disorders. Study 2 examined each of these domains in relation to transitions in heavy drinking from high school to college to determine whether they were associated with changes in relative risk during this developmental period. Overall, the results provide support for the utility of examining individual differences in subjective response to alcohol based on a hypothetical drinking scenario. The evidence suggests that experienced drinkers are capable of reliably and accurately estimating their subjective response to alcohol, that these anticipated effects are distinct from general beliefs about the effects of alcohol on behavior (i.e., alcohol expectancies), and that they are associated with patterns of drinking in emerging adults. There was little evidence to suggest that individual differences in subjective response to alcohol were associated with subjective response to other physiological or perceptual challenges, or patterns of cognitive impairment previously shown to be related to an increased risk for alcohol dependence. The results of the current study support the utility of using measures of anticipated subjective response as a proxy for individual differences in subjective response to alcohol when the administration of alcohol is either not appropriate or feasible.