Examining Cognitive Processes and Drinking Urge in PTSD
Despite their centrality to learning theories, strikingly little attention has been paid to the role of cognitions in efforts to understand associations between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol drinking. In the present study, we sought to examine information processing pathways for trauma and alcohol information, and the effects of posttraumatic stress and trauma cue exposure on these pathways. Participants were college students (N = 232; 49% female; M age = 1 19.56,SD = 1.44) categorized into three diagnostic groups based on current PTSD status determined by structured clinical interview. These students then were exposed to a personalized trauma or neutral cue script, followed by a Stroop task modified to include trauma, alcohol, and contrast words. Indices of mood and urge to drink alcohol were administered throughout the task. Findings revealed that those with PTSD who were exposed to the personalized trauma cue showed a general response slowing across all stimuli types on the Stroop task. Intriguingly, this slowing effect was significantly associated with urge to drink alcohol for only those PTSD participants who were exposed to the trauma cues. In contrast, we did not find support for the hypothesis that trauma cues would lead to attention bias to trauma and alcohol specific Stroop stimuli among participants with PTSD, nor did slower RT for specific word types predict unique variance in urge to drink alcohol. Findings suggest that individual (PTSD) and environmental (cue) circumstances may work conjointly to precipitate changes in cognitive processing - changes that may have implications for drinking motivation. Given the importance of cognition in the etiology of both PTSD and drinking, this is a mechanism that warrants further investigation.
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