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Reward Sensitivity Associated with Alcohol Intoxication

Posted in Research

Alcohol impacts many different brain functions. Individuals who become intoxicated may suddenly make decisions that they would not have made otherwise. Their inhibitions are lowered, helping them to relax, sometimes to the point of irresponsible behavior.

Scientists are constantly striving to understand the different brain responses to alcohol. One area that has recently been examined is how preference conditioning influences healthy individuals while intoxicated. Iris M. Balodis led a group of researchers from the Department of Psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in Canada.

The researchers examined the Conditioned Pattern Preference task in individuals under the influence of alcohol. The research team had previously studied the effects of alcohol on CPP, and had not discovered a relationship between CPP and alcohol. However, the authors wanted to better understand the relationship if there was prior drug use that may impact the conditioning scores.

To test the impact of prior drug use on the relationship between CPP and alcohol, the researchers looked at self-reported alcohol use and preference conditioning in the CPP task. The participants were asked to count the cues that appeared in difference locations on the computer monitor. This was done to measure working memory.

The participants, 69 female and 23 male undergraduate students, also completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test and the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index to measure their levels of drinking.

The results of the study show that there was an association between self-reported binge drinking and preference conditioning. Individuals who scored higher on the alcohol use disorder scales tended to have an increased preference for reward-paired cues. The study also found that hazardous drinking did not cause any impairment in working memory when completing the CPP task.

The findings of this study show support for evidence that a history of drug use may sensitize neural pathways that mediate conditioned reward. It may also indicate a neurocognitive disposition connecting substance misuse and interpretations of reward-paired stimuli.
The study found that the relationship between binge drinking and conditioned reward did not impact any cognitive functions. Working memory, for example, was not impacted by the association between binge drinking and conditioned reward.
The findings of this study will be an important step to understanding the way that the brain functions under the influence of alcohol. While working memory and other cognitive functions were not impacted, there is now a better understanding of how the brain responds to conditioning after an individual consumes large amounts of alcohol.