Alcohol’s effects on reactivity to stressors depend on the nature of the stressor and the reactivity being assessed. Research identifying characteristics of stressors that modulate reactivity and clarifies the neurobehavioral, cognitive, and affective components of this reactivity may help prevent, reduce or treat the negative impacts of acute and chronic alcohol use with implications for other psychopathology involving maladaptive reactivity to stressors. We used a novel, multi-measure, cued electric shock stressor paradigm in a greater university community sample of adult recreational drinkers to test how alcohol (N=64), compared to No-alcohol (N=64), affects reactivity to stressors that vary in both their perceived certainty and controllability. Preregistered analyses suggested alcohol significantly dampened subjective anxiety (self-report) and defensive reactivity (startle potentiation) more during uncertain than during certain stressors regardless of controllability, suggesting that stressor uncertainty —but not uncontrollability— may be sufficient to enhance alcohol’s stress reactivity dampening and thus negative reinforcement potential.
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