Relationship Between Negative Affect and Addiction

The relationship between negative affect and addiction is an important consideration when developing a customized treatment plan. Learn more about this relationship as we explore the study below.

Previous research shows that children who have a parent with a substance abuse disorder have an elevated risk of developing alcohol and drug addiction problems. Children of alcoholics, for instance, are more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs at a younger age, compared to children of non-alcoholics. Research shows that negative affect also plays a role in the development of drug and alcohol addiction and should be examined in addiction treatment. The negative affect regulation model posits that individuals use alcohol and drugs to cope with negative affect. The four fundamental components of negative affect are sadness, fear, guilt, and hostility. Researchers at the University of Delaware designed a study to examine the relations between these components of negative affect and the development of drug and alcohol addiction as well as potential mediating roles of these components on the relationship between paternal alcoholism and substance use (Ohannessian & Hesselbrock, 2009).

Relationship Between Negative Affect and Addiction: The Study

Participants in the study were 200 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19. Of the sample, 62 percent were female, 68 percent were white, and 56 percent were children of fathers diagnosed with alcohol dependence. The adolescents were followed for a period of five years and completed a psychiatric interview as well as self-report questionnaires to assess substance use and negative affect.

Results showed that higher levels of hostility and lower levels of guilt were associated with earlier initiation of substance use. Sadness and fear, on the other hand, were not related to substance use initiation. Further, the researchers found that hostility played an indirect role in the relationship between initiation of marijuana use and paternal alcoholism; children of alcohol dependent fathers reported higher hostility levels compared to children of non-alcoholics, and higher hostility levels predicted earlier initiation of marijuana use. According to the authors, these results suggest that it is important for addiction treatment providers and researchers to examine the different components of negative affect when investigating the development of substance use among adolescents. For example, alcohol treatment providers might target hostility among at-risk adolescents.

The Results

“Results from this study indicated that hostility plays a relatively salient role in the relationship between parental alcoholism and the initiation of substance use,” the authors conclude. “Findings from this study suggest that if substance-use prevention programs target hostility during childhood, the initiation of substance use may be delayed. The importance of delaying the onset of substance use cannot be overstated because early substance-use onset has been shown to be linked to an elevated risk for later substance abuse and dependence.”

By tackling issues concurrent with substance abuse problems, great progress can be made in recovery. This is an alternative to AA, where there is one path to recovery for all people. Each individual has a unique set of circumstances that led them to addiction, and likewise each individual has a unique path to recovery. It is important to determine which of the four fundamental components a person has before determining their alcohol treatment plan.

Ohannessian CM, Hesselbrock VM. A finer examination of the role that negative affect plays in the relationship between paternal alcoholism and the onset of alcohol and marijuana use. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2009; 70(3): 400-408.