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Alcohol Use Disorder Can Struggle To Recognize Facial Expressions

Alcohol Use Disorder Can Struggle To Recognize Facial Expressions
Alcohol Use Disorder Can Struggle To Recognize Facial Expressions
Social & Preventive Medicine / Community Medicine

As the people in early stage recovery from alcohol use disorder can struggle to recognize facial expressions of emotion; particularly anger according to a study. The findings building on the mounting evidence; that long term alcohol misuse may impair the brain’s ability to process facial emotion. People recovering from alcohol use disorder struggle to recognize angry facial expressions.

As facial expressions are important for interpersonal and social relationships, this might contribute to the development of interpersonal difficulties; which are common among people with alcohol use disorder and reduce the likelihood of a successful recovery. Researchers conducting face identification tasks with two groups of people; previous heavy drinkers with a diagnosed alcohol use disorder who had been abstinent for up to 3 months, and a control group of adults without an alcohol problem.

Alcohol use disorder

One task, a computer-based emotion judgment task, requiring participants to discriminate between happy; angry and sad facial expressions of varying emotional intensity. A second task required them to discriminate between male and female faces with neutral expressions; to ensure that any differences in emotion processing between the two groups were not accounted for by a more general impairment in facial recognition. Participants also completed a standard research questionnaire aimed at capturing interpersonal problems of different types.

In the sex judgment task, participants in the alcohol use disorder and control groups were equally able to differentiate male and female faces. However, in the emotion judgment task, participants in the alcohol use disorder group were (on average); significantly less accurate in discriminating between facial expressions and specifically in identifying anger.

Non-assertive and overly accommodating

As expected, interpersonal difficulties were more commonly reporting; by those in the alcohol use disorder group than in the control group. However, the researchers also found that among those with alcohol use disorder; a higher level of interpersonal problems was associating with a reducing ability to recognize angry faces. Specifically, the interpersonal traits of being overly needy; non-assertive and overly accommodating were shown to be meaningfully related to lower accuracy in identifying anger.

Although the underlying reasons for this relationship are unclear; the study provides a foundation for more comprehensive evaluation of emotion processing and its implications for people with alcohol use disorder, and may lead to new targets for behavioral interventions. Findings provide partial support for an emotion-specific processing deficit in persons with AUDs.