Levels of heavy episodic drinking peak during emerging adulthood and contribute to the experience of negative consequences. Previous research has identified a number of trait-like personality characteristics that are associated with drinking. Studies of the Acquired Preparedness Model have supported positive expectancies, and to a lesser extent negative expectancies, as mediators of the relation between trait-like characteristics and alcohol outcomes. However, expectancies measured via self-report may reflect differences in learned expectancies in spite of similar alcohol-related responses, or they may reflect true individual differences in subjective responses to alcohol. The current study addressed this gap in the literature by assessing the relative roles of expectancies and subjective response as mediators within the APM in a sample of 236 emerging adults (74.7% male) participating in a placebo-controlled alcohol challenge study. The study tested four mediation models collapsed across beverage condition as well as eight separate mediation models with four models (2 beverage by 2 expectancy/subjective response) for each outcome (alcohol use and alcohol-related problems). Consistent with previous studies, SS was positively associated with alcohol outcomes in models collapsed across beverage condition. SS was also associated with positive subjective response in collapsed models and in the alcohol models. The hypothesized negative relation between SS and sedation was not significant. In contrast to previous studies, neither stimulation nor sedation predicted either weekly drinking or alcohol-related problems. While stimulation and alcohol use appeared to have a positive and significant association, this relation did not hold when controlling for SS, suggesting that SS and stimulation account for shared variability in drinking behavior. Failure to find this association in the placebo group suggests that, while explicit positive expectancies are related to alcohol use after controlling for levels of sensation seeking, implicit expectancies (at least as assessed by a placebo manipulation) are not. That the relation between SS and stimulation held only in the alcohol condition in analyses separate by beverage condition indicates that sensation seeking is a significant predictor of positive subjective response to alcohol (stimulation), potentially above and beyond expectancies.