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Alcohol-Predictive Cues Enhance Tolerance to and Precipitate "Craving" for Alcohol in Social Drinkers:

C. G. McCusker, K. Brown

This study attempts to show that tolerance to alcohol is in large part a learned response, precipitated by contextual cues predictive of the unconditional drug effect. It also aims to show that the contextual cues integral to such environment-dependent tolerance function to increase motivational desire to drink alcohol. Male students (N = 40), drinking on average 10-20 units of alcohol per week, were randomly assigned to one of four groups. Two groups ingested 1.2ml/kg alcohol: one (AL-EXPT) with exteroceptive contextual cues typically associated with alcohol use, and the other (AL-UNEXPT) in a context not normally associated with alcohol. A third group (placebo) believed that they were drinking alcohol but, in fact, consumed a nonalcoholic beverage in the alcohol-expected context. The fourth group drank juice in the alcohol-unexpected context. As predicted, tolerance to the deleterious effects of alcohol on cognition and motor-performance, and subjective desire to consume alcohol, were influenced by the alcohol-predictive contextual cues. A physiological index (pulse rate) also tended to confirm that these cues elicited a conditioned compensatory response to alcohol. The implications of these findings for tolerance to and motivation to drink alcohol in a nonpathological population are discussed. (J. Stud. Alcohol 51: 494-499, 1990)