Date of this Version
Intrusive memories and associated symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) represent a significant public health problem, often leading to persistent physical and psychological difficulties experienced by victims long after the traumatic event, contributing to healthcare costs and loss of productivity. Research examining etiological factors that contribute to PTSD is needed in order to expand basic knowledge and to inform the development of prevention and intervention strategies. Although acute alcohol intoxication has the potential to impact established risk factors for the development of intrusive memories (e.g., via stress response, cognitive processing), and trauma—particularly sexual assault—often occurs under the influence of alcohol, the influence of peritraumatic (i.e., at the time of assault) alcohol intoxication on post-assault trauma symptoms is not well understood. To address this issue, the current study utilized an experimental design, including lab-based alcohol administration (high dose of .72 g/kg, low dose of .36 g/kg, and a placebo beverage), a well-accepted analog trauma exposure paradigm (a film with distressing or “traumatic” content), and ecological momentary assessment of intrusive memories. Results from 98 community women (ages 21 to 30, without a personal history of victimization) revealed peritraumatic intoxication did impact the occurrence of intrusive memories. Specifically, a marginally significant indirect effect showed that alcohol myopia disrupted cognitive processing and formation of trauma memories, resulting in increased intrusive memories at high levels of intoxication. At the same time, those who consumed high or low doses of alcohol displayed a dampened stress response, which reduced intrusive memories. Findings highlight the influence of peritraumatic cognitive impairment and stress response on the development of intrusive memories. Though alcohol influenced these risk factors simultaneously and in opposite directions, overall, participants in the high dose condition reported more intrusive memories than those in the placebo and low dose conditions. These findings reflect the importance of prevention and intervention programs aimed at reducing alcohol-involved victimization.
Adviser: David DiLillo