Psychology ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 12-15-2018


Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a major health problem, yet most individuals with AUD do not perceive a need for formal treatment and do not receive treatment. The lack of treatment seeking among individuals with AUD may suggest a lack of self-awareness and insight into the seriousness of AUD related problems. Moreover, individuals who have lost or are at risk of losing major relationships are especially likely to perceive the need for help. Thus, it may be the case that awareness of the influence of one’s drinking on social relationships and the feelings of others (i.e., empathy) could improve treatment seeking among individuals with AUD. Given recent research, it is hypothesized that empathic processing (EP) is impaired among individuals with AUD and this impairment may explain continued heavy drinking despite disruptions in social relationships. Further, scant research to date examines alcohol-related neural atrophy in EP-related networks, which may explain deficits in EP among individuals with AUD. The current study examined the association between structural correlates of self-reported EP and heavy drinking among non-treatment seeking heavy drinkers with AUD (N = 136). Results showed scores on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) Perspective Taking (PT) scale were inversely associated with temporoparietal and frontotemporal gray matter volume. An interaction between IRI PT and sex was associated with alcohol craving, such that higher PT scores were associated with less craving for men, only. IRI Empathic Concern (EC) was related to fewer percent heavy drinking days for men and women. This replicated previous research finding sex differences on EP within an AUD sample (Robinson et al., 2018). The results may inform future research and suggest that sampling with regard to sex must be controlled and other brain-based phenotypes, particularly those that independently examine the functional correlates of effortful and more- automatic EP, should be investigated.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Katie Witkiewitz

Second Committee Member

Vincent P. Clark

Third Committee Member

Eric D. Claus

Fourth Committee Member

Vince Calhoun




empathic processing, alcohol use disorder, heavy drinking, perspective taking, empathic concern, structural magnetic resonance imaging

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