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The neuroeconomics of alcohol demand: an initial investigation of the neural correlates of alcohol cost-benefit decision making in heavy drinking men.

  • Author(s): MacKillop, James;
  • Amlung, Michael T;
  • Acker, John;
  • Gray, Joshua C;
  • Brown, Courtney L;
  • Murphy, James G;
  • Ray, Lara A;
  • Sweet, Lawrence H
  • et al.

Neuroeconomics integrates concepts and methods from psychology, economics, and cognitive neuroscience to understand how the brain makes decisions. In economics, demand refers to the relationship between a commodity's consumption and its cost, and, in behavioral studies, high alcohol demand has been consistently associated with greater alcohol misuse. Relatively little is known about how the brain processes demand decision making, and the current study is an initial investigation of the neural correlates of alcohol demand among heavy drinkers. Using an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) paradigm, participants (N=24) selected how much they would drink under varying levels of price. These choices determined access to alcohol during a subsequent bar laboratory self-administration period. During decisions to drink in general, greater activity was present in multiple distinct subunits of the prefrontal and parietal cortices. In contrast, during decisions to drink that were demonstrably affected by the cost of alcohol, significantly greater activation was evident in frontostriatal regions, suggesting an active interplay between cognitive deliberation and subjective reward value. These choices were also characterized by significant deactivation in default mode network regions, suggesting suppression resulting from greater cognitive load. Across choice types, the anterior insula was notably recruited in diverse roles, further implicating the importance of interoceptive processing in decision-making behavior. These findings reveal the neural signatures subserving alcohol cost-benefit decision making, providing a foundation for future clinical applications of this paradigm and extending this approach to understanding the neural correlates of demand for other addictive commodities.

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