Positive emotional intensity and substance use: the underlying role of positive emotional avoidance in a community sample of military veterans

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Background: Military veterans are at greater risk for substance misuse. Positive emotional intensity is one well-established antecedent of substance misuse in this population. Positive emotional avoidance, or attempts to alter the form, frequency, or context of positive emotions, may help to explain this association. While clinical practice typically aims to increase positive emotions, such approaches may have iatrogenic effects, as high-intensity positive emotions may be experienced as distressing and prompt avoidance for some populations. This suggests a need to better understand responses to positive emotions to inform clinical practice. Objectives: The goal of the current study was to advance theory, research, and clinical practice by exploring the role of positive emotional avoidance in the associations between positive emotional intensity and both alcohol and drug misuse. We hypothesized that positive emotional intensity would indirectly influence alcohol and drug misuse through positive emotional avoidance. Methods: Participants were a community sample of United States military veterans recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (n = 535, Mage = 37.45, 71.8% male, 69.5% White). Results: Correlations among positive emotional intensity, positive emotional avoidance, and alcohol and drug misuse were significant and positive (rs range from.13 to.41). Further, positive emotional avoidance was found to account for the relations of positive emotional intensity to alcohol (indirect effect: b =.04, 95%CI [.01,.08]) and drug misuse (indirect effect: b =.01, 95%CI [.01,.02]). Conclusions: Results provide preliminary support for the potential clinical utility of targeting avoidance responses to positive emotions in interventions targeting alcohol and drug misuse among military veterans.

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American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse