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Study finds negative affect lability as a mediator between trauma exposure and substance use among college students

Previous research has revealed positive associations between negative affect lability (changes in affective experiences in response to specific situations) and both trauma exposure and alcohol use. A new study examined whether (a) participants with trauma exposure experience greater negative and positive affect lability, (b) negative and positive affect lability are associated with heavy drinking and drug use, and (c) negative and positive affect lability mediate the associations between trauma exposure and heavy drinking and drug use. Participants (N = 1640) were undergraduate psychology students with an average age of 19.2 years. Participants completed online surveys, which included a daily diary entry for 30 days. The daily diary measured positive and negative affect lability through extracting positive or negative affect terms such as “happy” or “guilty” and conducting daily mood ratings. The survey also included a demographic questionnaire, the Traumatic Experiences Screening Instrument (TESI), which screens for trauma events in a participants’ lifetime, and questions regarding alcohol and drug use such as how many standard drinks were consumed each day. The authors used descriptive statistics to characterize the variables of interest as well as mediation models to analyze the relationships between the variables. Results showed that out of 30 days, participants had alcohol data for an average of 29.7 (SD = 0.94) days and drug use data for an average of 28.9 (SD = 2.1) days. Furthermore, 77.7% of participants reported trauma exposure with females (79.6%) reporting a slightly higher rate than males (75.5%). In addition, trauma exposure was positively associated with affect lability as participants who reported trauma exposure had greater positive affect lability (p = 0.001) and negative affect lability (p = 0.01) than those who did not. With respect to mediation effects, negative affect lability significantly mediated the relationship between trauma exposure and percent days of heavy drinking (p = 0.05), whereas positive affect lability did not (p = 0.72). Similarly, negative affect lability significantly mediated the relationship between trauma exposure and percent days of drug use (p = 0.04), whereas positive affect lability did not (p = 0.62). Moreover the reverse mediation was significant as percent days of drug use was a significant mediator of the relationship between trauma exposure and negative affect lability (p = 0.03). Lastly, negative affect lability significantly mediated the relationship between trauma exposure and total number of drugs used in the past 30 days (p = 0.01), whereas positive affect lability did not (p = 0.39). Similar to the above results, the reverse mediation was significant as well. More specifically, total number of drugs used was a significant mediator of the relationship between trauma exposure and negative affect lability (p = 0.05), but not positive affect lability (p = 0.30).

Take away: Negative affect lability was associated with percent days of heavy drinking, percent days of drug use, and total number of drugs used in the past 30 days. Additionally, it mediated the associations between trauma exposure and heavy drinking and drug use outcomes.

Weiss, N. H., Bold, K. W., Contractor, A. A., Sullivan, T. P., Armeli, S., & Tennen, H. (2017). Trauma exposure and heavy drinking and drug use among college students: Identifying the roles of negative and positive affect lability in a daily diary study. Addictive Behaviors.

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