OBJECTIVE: Nonexperimental survey and field research support the notion that alcohol use may be associated with deliberate self-harm (DSH) across the spectrum of lethality, from nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) through suicide. Nonexperimental studies, however, provide limited information about potential causal relationships between alcohol consumption and DSH. Two previous experiments showed that a relatively high-dose of alcohol increases the likelihood of engaging in DSH in men, with DSH defined by the self-administration of a “painful” shock (the self-aggression paradigm [SAP]; Berman & Walley, 2003; McCloskey & Berman, 2003). In this study, we examined whether (a) lower doses of alcohol also elicit DSH, (b) this effect occurs for women as well as men, and (c) individual differences in past nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) moderate alcohol’s effects on DSH.
METHOD: Nonalcohol dependent men and women (N = 210) were assigned either to .00%, .05%, .075%, or .100% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) drink conditions and completed a self-rating scale of NSSI (the Deliberate Self-Harm Inventory [DSHI]; Gratz, 2001). As in previous SAP studies, DSH was operationalized by shock setting behavior during a competitive reaction time (RT) game.
RESULTS: Overall, a greater proportion of participants in the .075% and .100% (but not .050%) alcohol conditions self-selected a “painful” shock to administer compared to participants in the placebo condition. NSSI predicted self-administration of painful shocks, but did not moderate the alcohol effect.
CONCLUSIONS: Results provide experimental evidence to support the notion that interventions for self-harm should include processes to monitor and limit alcohol intake.