Depressive statements prime goal-directed alcohol-seeking in individuals who report drinking to cope with negative affect
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Currently under an indefinite embargo pending open access publication by Springer Verlag
Background Most variants of negative reinforcement theory predict that acute depressed mood can promote alcohol-seeking behaviour, but the precise mechanisms underpinning this effect remain contested. One possibility is that mood-induced alcohol-seeking is due to the formation of a stimulus-response (S-R) association, enabling depressed mood to elicit alcohol-seeking automatically. A second possibility is that depressed mood undergoes incentive learning, enabling it to enhance the expected value of alcohol and thus promote goal-directed alcohol-seeking. Objectives These two explanations were distinguished using a human outcome-revaluation procedure. Methods One hundred and twenty eight alcohol drinkers completed questionnaires of alcohol use disorder, drinking to cope with negative affect and depression symptoms. Participants then learned that two responses earned alcohol and food points respectively (baseline) in two-alternative forced-choice trials. At test, participants rated the valence of randomly sampled negative and positive mood statements and, after each statement, chose between the alcohol- or food-seeking response in extinction. Results The percentage of alcohol- vs. food-seeking responses was increased significantly in trials containing negative statements compared to baseline and positive statement trials, in individuals who reported drinking to cope with negative affect (p=.004), but there was no such interaction with indices of alcohol use disorder (p=.87) or depression symptoms (p=.58). Conclusions: Individuals who drink to cope with negative affect are more sensitive to the motivational impact of acute depressed mood statements priming goal-directed alcoholseeking. Negative copers’ vulnerability to alcohol dependence may be better explained by excessive affective incentive learning than by S-R habit formation.
The work was supported by the ESRC and Alcohol Research UK.
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