Repeated Alcohol Use and Sober-State Reactive Aggression: The Mediating and Moderating Role of Sober-State Executive Cognitive Functioning


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Virginia Tech


This study examined the cumulative, more insidious, impact of repeated drinking on sober-state aggression based on research that has pointed to the negative neural effects of chronic alcohol consumption, especially on frontal lobe functioning. In particular, it examined the relationship between repeated alcohol use and sober-state reactive aggression as it is mediated or moderated by sober-state executive cognitive functioning (ECF), thus expanding upon research that has examined the relationship between acute alcohol intoxication and consequent aggression while under the influence (Giancola, 2000b). It was hypothesized that ECF would mediate the relationship between repeated alcohol use and sober-state reactive aggression in college students in that a history of alcohol use would lower sober-state ECF which in turn would increase sober-state impulsive aggression in individuals. It was further hypothesized with a moderational model that high levels of ECF would offset the more insidious effects of repeated alcohol use on subsequent sober-state aggressive acts. Moreover, those effects would remain after controlling for potential confounds of violence exposure, gender, and intelligence.

Eighty college students, aged 18-23 years, from Virginia Tech were recruited to participate in this study. A self-report measure for aggression, neuropsychological tests for ECF, and a lifetime drinking interview schedule were used to assess the relationship between cumulative alcohol use, sober ECF, and sober aggression. A combination of bivariate and hierarchical regression analyses was used to analyze the data.

The hypotheses of this study were not supported. Instead, the results supported a positive relationship between prior exposure to violence and later escalation of alcohol use and perpetrated violence. Additionally, these results support the presence of a "binge drinking" pattern within the sample.



Executive Function, Lifetime Drinking History, Inhibition, Aggression, Alcohol Use, Frontal Lobe Damage