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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Behavioral economic analysis of stress effects on acute motivation for alcohol

  • Author(s): Owens, MM
  • Ray, LA
  • Mackillop, J
  • et al.

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© Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. Due to issues of definition and measurement, the heavy emphasis on subjective craving in the measurement of acute motivation for alcohol and other drugs remains controversial. Behavioral economic approaches have increasingly been applied to better understand acute drug motivation, particularly using demand curve modeling via purchase tasks to characterize the perceived reinforcing value of the drug. This approach has focused on using putatively more objective indices of motivation, such as units of consumption, monetary expenditure, and price sensitivity. To extend this line of research, the current study used an alcohol purchase task to determine if, compared to a neutral induction, a personalized stress induction would increase alcohol demand in a sample of heavy drinkers. The stress induction significantly increased multiple measures of the reinforcing value of alcohol to the individual, including consumption at zero price (intensity), the maximum total amount of money spent on alcohol (Omax), the first price where consumption was reduced to zero (breakpoint), and the general responsiveness of consumption to increases in price (elasticity). These measures correlated only modestly with craving and mood. Self-reported income was largely unrelated to demand but moderated the influence of stress on Omax. Moderation based on CRH-BP genotype (rs10055255) was present for Omax, with T allele homozygotes exhibiting more pronounced increases in response to stress. These results provide further support for a behavioral economic approach to measuring acute drug motivation. The findings also highlight the potential relevance of income and genetic factors in understanding state effects on the perceived reinforcing value of alcohol.

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