Alcoholics with antisocial personality disorder have blunted emotional reactivity

  • Emotional reactivity refers to how people respond to pleasant and unpleasant events.
  • New research has found that adult male alcoholics with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) have abnormally low emotional responsiveness.
  • Researchers speculate that the blunted responses found in this subgroup of alcoholics may be related to poor inhibitory abilities, which may, in turn, facilitate the development of alcoholism.

Emotional reactivity refers to how people respond to both pleasant and unpleasant events, including ones that cause physical and mental stress. A study in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found abnormally low emotional responsiveness among adult male alcoholics with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Study authors say these findings may reflect dysfunction in brain regions that govern how humans relate to their environment and make adaptive decisions, which may in turn facilitate the development of alcoholism through maladaptive, disinhibited behavior.

"Despite their often subtle nature, emotional reactions hold a central position in determining how the brain regulates behavior," said Robert Miranda, Jr., a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism postdoctoral fellow at Brown University and first author of the study. "Through integration with cognitive processes, emotional reactions play an important role in learning and memory, evaluating variable environmental contingencies, and motivating adaptive behavior. There is considerable variability among individuals in terms of how emotionally reactive we are to different types of situations and events. These differences may indicate vulnerability to certain psychiatric conditions, such as mood and anxiety disorders and addictions. In the case of antisocial behavior and addictions, there may be diminished reactions to cues that signal aversive events, including punishment."

Individuals who do no


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