A Multimethod Investigation of Distress Tolerance and Problematic Alcohol Use

Katherine A. Buckheit, Martin De Vita, Stephen A. Maisto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Negative reinforcement has been cited in many prominent theories as a process by which problematic alcohol use develops. According to negative reinforcement theories, alcohol is used to alleviate aversive physical and psychological states. Distress tolerance (DT) has been suggested as a construct that may represent individual differences in ability to tolerate aversive physical and psychological states and therefore may be valuable in identifying individuals at heightened risk for developing alcohol problems via negative reinforcement. However, research on DT is limited by heterogeneity in measurement, which has resulted in equivocal findings comparing measures of DT to each other and also in their relationships to psychopathology. The aim of the current study was to clarify relationships among measures of DT in a sample of alcohol users and to evaluate their relationships to alcohol consumption and problems. Participants were 89 undergraduate alcohol users who completed measures of perceived and behavioral tolerance to physically and psychologically aversive stimuli. Results provided some support for hypotheses, because measures of perceived tolerance were correlated with each other, but, contrary to hypotheses, measures of behavioral tolerance were not correlated with each other. Pain tolerance was the only measure of DT to significantly predict alcohol consumption and problems, although the effect was in the opposite direction from the one hypothesized. Pain tolerance was also indirectly associated with alcohol problems via alcohol consumption. Results support previous assertions of the importance of domain specificity in the measurement of DT and highlight the importance of population-specific processes to the development of alcohol problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Alcohol
  • Discomfort intolerance
  • Distress tolerance
  • Pain tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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