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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2000 Nov;24(11):1656-65.

Effects of alcohol on the response to hyperventilation of participants high and low in anxiety sensitivity.

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Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.



Previous research suggests that high levels of anxiety sensitivity (AS; fear of anxiety symptoms) may constitute a risk factor for alcohol abuse. The present study evaluated the hypothesis that high AS levels may increase risk for alcohol abuse by promoting a heightened sober reactivity to theoretically relevant stressors and heightened sensitivity to alcohol's emotional reactivity dampening effects, which would negatively reinforce drinking in this population.


One hundred and two undergraduate participants (51 high AS, 51 low AS) with no history of panic disorder were assigned to either a placebo, low-dose alcohol, or high-dose alcohol beverage condition (17 high AS, 17 low AS per beverage condition). After beverage consumption and absorption, participants underwent a 3 min voluntary hyperventilation challenge.


High-AS/placebo participants displayed greater affective and cognitive reactivity to the challenge than low-AS/placebo participants, which indicated increased fear and negative thoughts (e.g., "losing control") during hyperventilation among sober high AS individuals. Dose-dependent alcohol dampening of affective and cognitive reactivity to hyperventilation was observed only among high-AS participants, which suggested that high-AS individuals may be particularly sensitive to alcohol-induced reductions in their degree of fear and negative thinking in response to the experience of physical arousal sensations. In contrast, dose-dependent alcohol dampening of self-reported somatic reactivity was observed among both high- and low-AS participants. We discuss implications of these results for understanding risk for alcohol abuse in high-AS individuals, as well as directions for future research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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