Striatal activation to monetary reward is associated with alcohol reward sensitivity

Milena Radoman, Natania A. Crane, Stephanie M. Gorka, Jessica Weafer, Scott A. Langenecker, Harriet de Wit, K. Luan Phan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


One well-known phenotypic risk factor for the development of alcohol use disorder is sensitivity to the rewarding effects of alcohol. In the present study, we examined whether individuals who are sensitive to alcohol reward are also sensitive to nondrug rewards, thereby reflecting a broader individual difference risk factor. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that subjective response to acute rewarding effects of alcohol would be related to neural activation during monetary reward receipt relative to loss (in the absence of alcohol). Community-recruited healthy young social drinkers (N = 58) completed four laboratory sessions in which they received alcohol (0.8 g/kg) and placebo in alternating order under double-blind conditions, providing self-report measures of subjective response to alcohol at regular intervals. At a separate visit 1–3 weeks later, they completed a reward-guessing game, the ‘Doors’ task, during fMRI in a drug-free state. Participants who reported greater motivation (i.e., wanting) to consume more alcohol after a single moderate dose of alcohol also exhibited greater neural activation in the bilateral ventral caudate and the nucleus accumbens during reward receipt relative to loss. Striatal activation was not related to other subjective ratings including alcohol-induced sedation, stimulation, or pleasure (i.e., feeling, liking). Our study is the first to show that measures of alcohol reward are related to neural indices of monetary reward in humans. These results support growing evidence that individual differences in responses to drug and nondrug reward are linked and together form a risk profile for drug use or abuse, particularly in young adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-350
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This publication was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA; R01DA002812, PIs: HdW and KLP). SMG and JW were supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA; K23AA025111, PI: SMG; K01AA024519, PI: JW). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIDA, NIAAA, or the National Institutes of Health. Authors declare no competing interests.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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