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Change in Implicit Alcohol Associations Over Time: Moderation by Drinking History and Gender

Implicit alcohol associations are unintentional processing of alcohol-related cues and little research has focused on the development or change in this association. Research has shown that these associations can be vulnerability markers for problem drinking. Because of this, the current study looks at associations between drinking and self, alcohol and excitement, and alcohol and appetitive/approach inclinations in a longitudinal study of college students.

506 undergraduate students were recruited between the ages of 18 to 20 at a Northwestern public university.  Measures included an Implicit Association Test (IAT), drinking history, and family history of problem drinking. The IAT was a computer-based reaction time task that has a goal of measuring the strengths of associations between concepts. The IAT’s were completed by students at 4-month intervals for 8 assessments. History of drinking consisted of participants choosing no drink history, history of drinking alcohol but no history of intoxication, or history of intoxication.

Results showed that drinking history of intoxication and being male was correlated to higher drinking identities. For alcohol-excite associations, those who had history of intoxication and being male was associated with higher scores. Finally, like the first two measures, those who had a history of intoxication and being male was associated with higher alcohol-approach scores. Researchers did not find any significant moderators of change in alcohol approach during the study. These findings indicate the importance of understanding students’ implicit associations’ trajectories and their influence on future problem drinking.

Take Away: Research has shown implicit alcohol associations can be vulnerability markers for problem drinking. Because of this, the current study looks at associations between drinking and self, alcohol and excitement, and alcohol and appetitive/approach inclinations in a longitudinal study of college students. 506 undergraduate students were recruited with measures including an Implicit Association Test (IAT), drinking history, and family history of problem drinking. Results showed drinking history of intoxication and being male was correlated to higher drinking identities. For alcohol-excite associations, those who had history of intoxication and being male was associated with higher scores. Finally, like the first two measures, those who had a history of intoxication and being male was associated with higher alcohol-approach scores. These findings indicate the importance of understanding students’ implicit associations’ trajectories and their influence on future problem drinking.

Lindgren, K. P., Baldwin, S. A., Peterson, K. P., Wiers, R. W., & Teachman, B. A. (2020). Change in implicit alcohol associations over time: Moderation by drinking history and gender. Addictive Behaviors, 107, 106413. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106413

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