Striatal activity correlates with stimulant-like effects of alcohol in healthy volunteers

Jessica Weafer, Thomas J. Ross, Sean O’Connor, Elliot A. Stein, Harriet de Wit, Emma Childs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Individuals who experience greater stimulation and less sedation from alcohol are at increased risk for alcohol-related problems. However, little is known regarding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying subjective response to alcohol. The current study examined the degree to which alcohol-induced brain activation correlates with ratings of stimulation and sedation, using a within-subjects, double-blind, placebo-controlled design. Participants (N = 34 healthy adults with no history of alcohol use disorder) completed three sessions: a calibration session to determine the duration of infusion needed to bring the breath alcohol to 80 mg/dl for each subject, and two counterbalanced fMRI sessions with placebo and alcohol administration. During the fMRI sessions, participants underwent 50 min scans, which included a 10 min baseline period, the IV infusion period needed to bring breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) to a peak 80 mg/dl (on the alcohol session), followed by a post-peak decline period. Participants rated their subjective stimulation and sedation at regular intervals throughout the scan. A priori VOI analyses showed that the time course of stimulation correlated with BOLD signal in the striatum. The time course of sedation did not correlate with BOLD signal in any VOIs. There were no correlations in primary visual cortex, which served as a control. These findings are the first to show that alcohol effects in the striatum are linked to the positive, stimulant-like effects of the drug and advance our understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying individual differences in subjective responses to alcohol, and more broadly, risk for alcohol use disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2532-2538
Number of pages7
Issue number13
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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