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The Role of Reinforcing Efficacy of Alcohol in Impulsivity

Posted in Young Adults

There are multiple negative consequences associated with alcohol use. Some are immediate, involving injury or risky sexual behaviors. Others are long-term, resulting in an increased risk for heart disease, liver disease and several types of cancer.

For some individuals, a bad experience with alcohol can prevent them from losing control of their consumption in the future. Recovering from a particularly bad hangover or dealing with the consequences of a bad decision that occurred while heavily drinking deters some individuals from choosing to drink heavily again.

However, it is difficult to predict which individuals will change their drinking consumption following a negative experience.

A recent study led by Andrew M. Kiselica and Ashley Borders examined how the reinforcing efficacy of alcohol, a measure of an individual’s willingness to consume alcohol despite the anticipated negative consequences, may serve to express impulsivity that is connected with alcohol-related problems.

The researchers wanted to find out whether two ways of estimating the level of reinforcing efficacy of alcohol acted as statistical mediators for the four facets of impulsivity and negative drinking outcomes. The two measures of reinforcing efficacy of alcohol assessed were demand intensity (level of alcohol consumption if the alcohol is free) and Omax (the maximum amount spent on alcohol).

The authors tested reinforcing efficacy of alcohol among 202 undergraduate students who identified themselves as social drinkers. The participants were given hypothetical tasks that required them to report how many alcoholic beverages they would drink at various price points. They were also evaluated for alcohol use, alcohol-related problems and measures of impulsivity.

The results of the analysis revealed that path models reflected two facets of impulsivity that were connected with a higher level of reinforcing efficacy and an increased level of alcohol problems. The two facets were sensation-seeking and urgency. In addition, the authors found that the associations were sequentially mediated by reinforcing efficacy as well as alcohol consumption.

The authors conclude that when an undergraduate student responds in impulsivity to either negative emotions or they have a tendency for sensation-seeking behaviors, they may be more likely to drink and to buy alcohol. This may result in increased drinking, which can result in increased alcohol-related problems.

The findings indicate that there may be a need for more understanding of the mechanisms where interventions have resulted in reducing problem drinking. In addition, further research is needed to determine whether the price of an alcoholic drink may influence impulsive drinkers. Manipulation of pricing of alcoholic beverages may result in a more cautious approach.

The study’s findings appear in a recent issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.