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The relationship between placebo alcohol and affect: Motives for drinking


Rachel C. Bailey BA-Psych (Hons), Honours student, Andrew J. Baillie MPsychol, PhD, MAPS, Associate Professor. Correspondence to A/Professor Andrew J. Baillie, Psychology Department, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia. Tel: +61 (0)2 9850 9436; Fax: +61 (0)2 9850 8062; E-mail:


Introduction and Aims.

Although alcohol is often used in an attempt to alleviate negative affect, alcohol oftentimes exacerbates depressive symptoms. Therefore the relationship between alcohol and affect, and the role of motives for drinking remain unclear. The present study hypothesised that placebo alcohol would blunt affective responding and that desire to drink would increase in individuals who expected alcohol to help them cope after a negative experience. The present study also explored whether motives and reasons for drinking altered after a negative experience.

Design and Methods.

Participants (36 first-year psychology students and 41 community members) were randomly assigned to one of four experimental groups, being soft drink or placebo alcohol, neutral or negative mood induction.


Two repeated measures analyses indicated that placebo alcohol did not significantly blunt affective responding after the negative mood induction. T-tests showed that desire to drink did not significantly increase post negative mood induction for participants who endorsed coping motives for drinking. However, interestingly coping-depression and enhancement motives decreased after negative mood induction, and participants misattributed the majority of their mood to other life events.

Discussion and Conclusions.

The findings indicate that motives for drinking are amendable with prior learning, providing support for expectancy challenge procedures. The study also provides some evidence for alcohol's effect on emotional lability.