Understanding the world through the bottom of a glass: alcohol dependence factors affecting social and emotional processing

First published: 10/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

Background: Although a growing research area, the nature of effects of alcohol dependence (AD) on emotional and social processing are still relatively unknown. Problems are apparent with deliberate and conscious processing of complex social scenarios, such as humour processing and the detection of irony and social misdemeanours (faux pas). Very little is known about the relationship between AD related factors (e.g. years of problematic drinking) and emotional processing.

Aims: Through a two-step data driven approach, we sought to analyse the predictive factors of AD upon emotional processing through the Mini Social and Emotional Assessment (Mini SEA). Furthermore, we also analysed the direct relationship between AD related factors and emotional processing by hierarchical cluster analysis.

Methods: Data from 44 AD participants diagnosed using the DSM-5, were employed to complete a series of cognitive, demographic and emotional processing measures. The Mini SEA evaluates emotional and social understanding through a series of social scenarios, some of which contain a ‘faux pas’. A faux pas is a social, often unintentional, misdemeanour involving two or more characters.

Results: Results from linear regression analysis showed that years of problematic alcohol consumption and response inhibition (measured via the Stroop task) predicted poor performance on the Mini SEA. However, the cluster analysis showed that AD related behaviours, social processing and cognitive skill formed individual clusters and are not necessarily inter-related. Interestingly, depression and anxiety were also clustered with AD related behaviours.

Conclusion: Taken together, these results suggest that emotional and social processing is affected by the chronicity of AD.  These results are of particular relevance to rates of abstinence and relapse, as social skills, social support and interpersonal relationships are underscored by emotional processing, and can all be crucial to successful recovery.

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Dr Sharon Cox