Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Role of Alcohol Consumption and Romantic Attachment Insecurity as Risk Factors for Disrupted Sleep and Emotion Regulation among Underage and Young Adult Drinkers

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Role of Alcohol Consumption and Romantic Attachment Insecurity as Risk Factors for Disrupted Sleep and Emotion Regulation among Underage and Young Adult Drinkers

Article excerpt

Underage drinking is a public health concern within the US, and the prevalence of alcohol consumption among underage and young adult drinkers is very high. According to the Substance Use and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), alcohol is the most widely used substance among youth; in 2014, around 29% of 18-20 year olds and 43% of 21-25year olds engaged in binge drinking (SAMHSA, 2014). Alcohol consumption among underage drinkers accounts for 12% ($27 billion) of the 223 billion in economic costs to society and results in death, health care expenses, motor vehicle accidents, loss of productivity as well as increases in violence, homicide, risky sexual behavior, neurological impairment, alcohol use disorder, and thereby mental and physical health consequences (HHS, SAMHSA, 2016). Despite the impact of alcohol on health, the role of alcohol on biological (sleep patterns) and emotional states (emotion regulation) within this high-risk population have been underemphasized. This study uses a risk and resilience framework to examine the protective role of relationship factors, specifically attachment styles within romantic relationships that may buffer against the adverse impact of alcohol consumption on sleep and emotion regulatory strategies.

Alcohol Consumption and Health Behaviors

Excessive amounts of alcohol consumption or binge drinking has been defined as men having five or more drinks and women having four or more drinks on one occasion, typically over 2 hours (CDC, 2015). Poor mental health and alcohol consumption have been intricately connected with disturbances in sleep patterns (Kenney, Lac, LaBrie, Hummer, & Pham, 2013). In fact, sleep disruption is a common symptom of most mental health illnesses, and the links between sleep and mental health are complex (Weich, 2010). College students report high rates of disruptions in sleep quality and quantity, including daytime sleepiness, insomnia, onset latency, etc., which may be attributed to their lifestyle including consumption of alcohol and other substances (Roehrs & Roth, 2001). Excessive level of chronic alcohol consumption is a risk factor for sleep disturbances such as insomnia (Brower, 2003).

Alcohol Consumption and Sleep Patterns

Despite the close links between sleep disturbances and alcoholism, the associations between the two are complex. Alcohol could lead to a vicious cycle in which young people with sleep problems may use alcohol to self-medicate, thereby increasing existing sleep problems (Sivertsen, Skogen, Jakobsen, & Hysing, 2015). Although alcohol may be consumed due to its sedative effects on the brain, alcoholics or those who consume excessive levels of it may not experience the sedative effect of alcohol due to tolerance (Brower, 2003). Furthermore, the neurobiological processes underlying the effect of alcohol on sleep have not been widely explored. Sleep is regulated by neurobiological systems which may be affected by excessive drinking. Multiple neurotransmitters that impact sleep may be influenced by the use of alcohol. For instance, alcohol has been shown to increase noradrenergic activity and dopamine levels, leading to increased arousal (Brower, 2003). Alcohol effectively serves to depress central nervous system activity. The brain compensates for this depressive effect of alcohol by a change in activity that results in increased arousal (Brower, 2003). Thus, although alcohol may increase sleep during the first few hours of the night, there may be greater disruptions in sleep during the latter part of the night (Ebrahim, Shapiro, Williams, & Fenwick, 2013).

One of the earliest studies on the effects of alcohol has shown that high doses close to bedtime serve to impact rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and increase slow wave sleep (i.e., stages 3 and 4 of NREM; Kleitman, 1961, in Ebrahim et al., 2013). Sleep patterns most likely affected by high doses of alcohol include reduced onset latency (i. …

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