Investigating the Combined Effects of Alcohol Expectancies and Subjective Response on Future Drinking: An Interaction Approach

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Past research suggests that both Alcohol Expectancies and Subjective Response are strong predictors of drinking. However, most studies do not account for the shared variance or relations between the two.

Past research suggests that both Alcohol Expectancies and Subjective Response are strong predictors of drinking. However, most studies do not account for the shared variance or relations between the two. Social cognitive and expectancy theories suggest that cognitions may distort reality, creating a discrepancy between expected and subjective effects. Only one study has tested the effects of such discrepancies (Morean et al., 2015), but that study was cross-sectional, making it impossible to determine the direction of effects. As such, the present study sought to test prospective associations between expectancy-subjective response interactions and future drinking behavior. Participants (N=448) were randomly assigned to receive alcohol (target blood alcohol alcohol =.08 g%) or placebo, with 270 in the alcohol condition. Alcohol expectancies and subjective response were assessed across the full range of affective space of valence by arousal. Hierarchical regression tested whether expectancies, subjective response, and their interaction predicted follow-up drinking in 258 participants who reached a blood alcohol curve of >.06 (to differentiate blood alcohol curve limbs). Covariates included gender, age, drinking context, and baseline drinking. High arousal subjective response was tested on the ascending limb and low arousal subjective response on the descending limb. High arousal positive expectancies and subjective response interacted to predict future drinking, such that mean and low levels of high arousal positive subjective response were associated with more drinking when expectancies were higher. High arousal negative expectancies and subjective response also interacted to predict future drinking, such that high levels of high arousal negative subjective response marginally predicted more drinking when expectancies were lower. There were no interactions between low arousal positive or low arousal negative expectancies and subjective response. Results suggest that those who expected high arousal positive subjective response but did not receive many of these effects drank more, and those who did not expect to feel high arousal negative subjective response but did in fact feel these effects also drank more. The results suggest that challenging inaccurate positive expectancies and increasing awareness of true negative subjective response may be efficacious ways to reduce drinking.