In the search for the factors related to the heightened alcoholism risk in adult children of alcoholics (ACOA), it has been reported that these persons possess a high incidence of attention deficit disorders (ADD) as determined by clinical assessment instruments. However, investigations of alcoholism risk and ADD indicate that, in contrast to the hypoarousal model of ADD, the ACOA’s attention problems represent hyperarousal of attention mechanisms resulting in reduced ability to select and encode relevant information. If true, then unlike persons with ADD, clinical and cognitive assessments of ACOAs would benefit if the ACOA was provided with more time to encode and respond to the probe information.
The subjects were 188 healthy nonalcoholic volunteers. Ninety-four subjects were ACOA and 94 subjects were not adult children of alcoholics (NACOA). Visuospatial processing was assessed using the Brief Visuospatial Memory Test-Revised because previous research has found that visuospatial processing is particularly sensitive to ACOA/NACOA status. For both groups, one-half the subjects received a standard testing time interval while the other half received twice the testing time interval.
Compared to NACOAs, ACOAs showed significantly reduced test performance in the standard test time condition. While increased test time resulted in slight NACOA performance gains, ACOAs showed significant performance gains. When provided the extended testing time, ACOA performance did not differ from NACOAs.
The results show that ACOA’s information processing is disrupted by hyperarousal in attention and orienting systems and demonstrates the utility of direct evaluations of these operations to understand the nature of the disruptions.
Clark, Kellianne and Cutler, Jaclyn, "Accommodating Hyperaroused Information Processing in Persons at Risk for Alcoholism" (2014). Student Research Day Abstracts and Posters. 74.