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J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011 Jun;79(3):307-18. doi: 10.1037/a0023421.

Deficits in emotion-regulation skills predict alcohol use during and after cognitive-behavioral therapy for alcohol dependence.

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Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Marburg, Gutenbergstrasse 18, Marburg, Germany.



As emotion regulation is widely considered to be a primary motive in the misuse of alcohol, our aim in the study was to investigate whether deficits in adaptive emotion-regulation skills maintain alcohol dependence (AD).


A prospective study investigated whether emotion-regulation skills were associated with AD and whether these skills predicted alcohol use during and after treatment for AD. Participants were 116 individuals treated for AD with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Emotion regulation and severity of AD symptoms were assessed by self-report. Alcohol use during treatment was assessed by Breathalyzer and urine analysis for ethyl glucuronide; alcohol use during the 3-month follow-up interval was assessed by self-report.


Pretreatment emotion-regulation skills predicted alcohol use during treatment, and posttreatment emotion-regulation skills predicted alcohol use at follow-up, even when controlling for other predictors potentially related to emotion regulation. Among a broad range of specific emotion-regulation skills, the ability to tolerate negative emotions was the only skill that negatively predicted subsequent alcohol consumption when controlling for the other skills. Individuals in the AD sample reported significantly larger deficits in emotion-regulation skills than did those in a nonclinical control sample but significantly less than did those in a sample of individuals exclusively meeting criteria for major depressive disorder.


Enhancement of general emotion-regulation skills, especially the ability to tolerate negative emotions, appears to be an important target in the treatment of AD.

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