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Keywords:

  • Subjective Response;
  • Tolerance;
  • Alcohol Use;
  • Alcohol Problems;
  • Heavy Drinkers

Background

Previous studies have demonstrated that a low subjective response (SR) to alcohol is a risk factor for alcohol use disorders (AUDs), and a recent study suggests that acquired tolerance can be differentiated from initial SR and is also significantly associated with drinking problems. Because the prior study of SR and tolerance focused on a sample of moderate drinkers, the goal of the current study was to examine relations between early SR, acquired tolerance, alcohol use, and alcohol-related problems in a sample of young adults with clinically significant alcohol problems.

Methods

The current study examined associations between early SR and acquired tolerance and both drinking behavior and alcohol-related problems within a sample of 113 heavy drinking young adults (66.1% male) volunteering for a clinical trial of naltrexone in combination with brief motivational counseling.

Results

Consistent with the 1 prior study examining simultaneous effects of early SR and tolerance, both early SR and acquired tolerance were positively associated with typical drinking behavior, although tolerance was a much stronger predictor within this clinical sample. In contrast to the prior study, early SR was inversely associated with risk for alcohol-related problems, and tolerance was not a significant predictor of problems.

Conclusions

The results suggested that, controlling for weekly drinking, a low early SR protected against acute negative consequences within a sample of heavy drinkers who had acquired significant tolerance to alcohol effects. It is possible that this protective effect may eventually shift to a risk factor by allowing individuals with a low SR to persist in a pattern of hazardous drinking.