Study explores effect of emotion differentiation among individuals with alcohol use disorder

Published March 28, 2024


Clara M. Bradizza

Clara M. Bradizza.

Charles LaBarre

Charles LaBarre.

Paul R. Stasiewicz

Paul R. Stasiewicz.

Several University at Buffalo and UB School of Social Work researchers have published a new study in Behaviour Research and Therapy, titled, “Emotion differentiation among individuals in a randomized clinical trial for alcohol use disorder: Within- and between-person associations with affect, craving and alcohol use in daily life.”

Kyler Knapp, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at UB's Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions, led the study.

His colleagues included Clara M. Bradizza, PhD, professor, UB School of Social Work; Junru Zhao, PhD, affiliated research associate, UB School of Social Work; Braden K. Linn, MSW ’12, PhD ’18, assistant professor, Pennsylvania State University; Gregory E. Wilding, PhD, professor, UB School of Public Health and Health Professions; Charles LaBarre, PhD student, UB School of Social Work; and Paul R. Stasiewicz, PhD, professor and Janet B. Wattles Endowed Chair, UB School of Social Work.

Research in this article was supported by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health.


Emotion differentiation refers to cognitively distinguishing among discrete, same-valenced emotions. Negative emotion differentiation (NED) is a transdiagnostic indicator of emotional functioning. The role of positive emotion differentiation (PED) in clinical disorders, including alcohol use disorder (AUD), is less understood. Further, despite consensus that emotions are highly variable, little is known about within-person fluctuations in NED/PED.

The current study leveraged 84 consecutive daily smartphone surveys from participants (N = 181) in a clinical trial of cognitive behavioral therapy for AUD to investigate whether between-person differences in overall NED/PED, or within-person variability in daily NED/PED, were associated with affect intensity, craving, drinking and heavy drinking in daily life. Subsequent analyses explored whether associations were moderated by baseline alexithymia. At the between-persons level, greater average PED, but not NED, was associated with lower heavy drinking odds. At the within-persons level, higher-than-usual PED was associated with lower negative affect and odds of any drinking. Individuals with baseline alexithymia had stronger negative within-person associations between daily NED and both any and heavy drinking. PED is a skill linked to less alcohol use between- and within-persons irrespective of baseline alexithymia, whereas greater daily NED appears especially important for reduced alcohol use among individuals with co-morbid AUD and alexithymia.

Graphic with red cross.

This research contributes to one of the Grand Challenges for Social Work tackling our nation's toughest social problems: Close the health gap.