NRSA Laude: Intoxication in a Rewarding Environment as a Risk Factor for Alcohol Misuse

Grants and Contracts Details


Numerous studies have found that drinkers preferentially process alcohol cues (attentional bias; AB) and that this plays a causal role in the initiation and persistence of a drinking episode. Despite consistent evidence for AB in drinkers, little is known about whether it can disrupt learning about other important stimuli in the situation. The ability to allocate attention proportionately among myriad relevant stimuli in a context is crucial for behavioral control, including control over drinking behavior. Recently, human researchers have been interested in how a pre-trained cue impairs ones’ ability to learn about a new cue (blocking). It has been found that if the perceptual salience of a cue is increased relative to a to-be-learned cue and presented in the same context, this results in a failure to learn about the new cue. With regard to drug abuse, an interesting question then is how drug-related cues that have acquired salience and capture users’ attention impair learning about other cues in the environment. Blocking is an ideal paradigm to test for the disruption of learning because it is sensitive to the perceptual salience of cues and suggests this will also allow for detection of the effects of acquired salience of a drug cue on learning. Previous research has found that drinkers display AB at sober levels. There is also evidence that when alcohol-related cues exist within a context, impulsivity is increased (context-specific impulsivity). Furthermore, it has been found that high trait levels of impulsivity impair learning about stimulus-outcome associations. Thus, study 1 will test for cue-induced blocking in a large sample of young adult drinkers and will provide ample power to test for individual differences in 2 impulsivity characteristics (context-specific and trait). It is hypothesized there will be greater blocking by a drug cue than a neutral cue and that this will be a result of increased AB to the drug cue. Furthermore, both dimensions of impulsivity will disrupt learning beyond the impairment produced by AB alone. There is also evidence that an active dose of alcohol increases AB relative to a sober baseline. Study 2 will adopt the most effective methods from study 1 and will test for cue-induced blocking in drinkers under several doses of alcohol. It is hypothesized that a dose dependent increase in cue-induced blocking will be observed. These specific aims will be examined in at-risk and social drinkers. Results would have important implications for the growing interest in interventions aimed reducing drinking by attentional–retraining exercises that attempt to eliminate drinker’s AB. Attentional re-training has focused on attempting to condition the drinker to learn to associate positive outcomes with non-alcohol-related outcomes and not with the alcohol-related cues all within the same context. Such approaches do not consider that associative learning is likely compromised by AB to the alcohol-related cues in the situation. Results from the proposed study would provide a clearer understanding about potential adverse consequences that AB have on learning about other relevant (non-alcohol related) stimuli that signal healthier alternatives to continued drinking in the context.
Effective start/end date7/26/155/14/16


  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: $38,404.00


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