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The role of impulsivity, affect, and expectations in alcohol use and disordered eating


Alcohol use and eating disorders are a major public health concern for women in late adolescence and early adulthood. Emotion based impulsivity represents one process by which the experience of strong emotions may generally predispose some individuals to engage in rash behavior, including dysfunctional eating and drinking. In two sessions, the present study examined positive and negative urgency in relationship to dysfunctional eating and drinking, cognitive expectations about food and alcohol, affect regulation variables, and as a potential correlate of a behavioral task. 1,060 undergraduate college females were examined on measures of impulsivity, expectations, affect lability, depression, alcohol use, alcohol-related problems, and disordered eating; 190 returned for a second session involving a behavioral task following mood manipulation. Among this sample of young adult college females, greater levels of negative urgency were affiliated with alcohol related consequences and disordered eating, above and beyond other sub-facets of impulsivity, depressive symptoms, and volatile affect. Negative urgency was especially heightened among females with co-occurring problem drinking and disordered eating symptoms, versus non-disordered controls and females with either set of symptoms alone. While positive urgency was related to alcohol-related problems above and beyond use rates, it did not add significant predictive power after controlling for other impulsivity sub-facets. Results demonstrate the urgency traits are unique predictors of disordered eating and problematic drinking, independent of depression and affect lability. Females who were elevated on the urgency traits and who held expectations regarding the reinforcing properties of food and alcohol tended to experience the greatest levels of dysfunction. Session two results indicated that while errors of commission on the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) were affiliated with increased levels of lack of premeditation when individuals were in neutral mood states, SART responding was unrelated to self reported impulsivity in positive or negative mood states. This study supplements research on the mechanisms and risk factors that underlie these disorders, and has clinical implications for mental health assessment, prevention and treatment

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