Affect and drinking behavior: Moderating effects of involuntary attention to emotion and distress tolerance

Michael K. Webb, Jeffrey S. Simons, Raluca M. Simons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This study tested a multiple group path model in a sample of young adults (n = 402; 233 university participant pool/169 Amazon MTurk) linking positive and negative affect to alcohol consumption and problems via enhancement and coping motives, respectively. Motivational models of alcohol use suggest that individuals drink in order to alleviate negative affective states or to enhance positive moods or feelings. Deficits in modulating attention toward emotional experience (i.e., involuntary attention to emotion [IAE]); and poor distress tolerance may contribute to maladaptive patterns of substance use (i.e., negative reinforcement). As negative affect increases, those with deficits in the ability to efficiently attend to emotions as well as the inability to withstand distress may seek more external means of regulating unwanted or intrusive emotional experiences via alcohol. It was hypothesized that involuntarily attending to one's emotions would contribute to negative reinforcement drinking and problems. Coping motives were directly associated with alcohol-related problems, while enhancement motives were directly associated with problems both directly and indirectly via alcohol consumption. The hypothesized interaction between negative affect and IAE to coping motives was conditional upon levels of distress tolerance, with the moderating effect of involuntary attention being significant at high but not low levels of distress tolerance. Distress tolerance exhibited direct, inverse associations with alcohol-related problems. This pathway was significant over and above the direct effects of both coping motives and alcohol consumption. This suggests that while tolerance for emotional distress may reduce negative reinforcement drinking, it also fosters adaptive regulation when intoxicated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)576-588
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Attention to emotion
  • Distress tolerance
  • Drinking motives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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