Newswise — The ability to recognize emotion in others’ facial expressions is an important social skill for interpersonal relationships, work interactions, and family life. Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are linked to a number of deficits in reasoning and emotional functions, including difficulty in identifying emotional facial expressions. This study examined the emotion-recognition abilities of individuals with an AUD and whether the expected deficits were associated with drinking or anxious and depressive symptoms.

Researchers compared the abilities of two groups to recognize facial expressions showing happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, and disgust.  The two groups included 19 participants (15 males, 4 females) with an AUD and 19 volunteers (11 males, 8 females) without AUDs. Using the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) Emotion Recognition Task, the researchers analyzed group differences in response, accuracy, and misidentification patterns. Participants were also asked about their drinking in the previous 90 days.

Individuals with AUDs had a tendency to misidentify emotional facial expressions as being hostile. Conversely, the volunteers without an AUD tended to wrongly identify emotional expressions as being happy. The degree to which individuals with AUDs tended toward anger or disgust was positively linked to the number of drinks they had consumed in the previous 90 days but not with depression or anxiety scores. The researchers suggested that these results support the belief that an AUD disrupts a person’s social abilities and/or that underlying social deficits might increase risk of SUD as a mechanism to compensate for underlying social insufficiencies.

Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research