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Alcohol Effects on Inhibitory and Activational Response Strategies in the Acquisition of Alcohol and Other Reinforcers: Priming the Motivation to Drink

Mark T. Fillmore, Craig R. Rush

Objective: Low doses of alcohol can increase (i.e., prime) operant responding for alcohol in social drinkers. The present study tested the degree to which alcohol increased subjects’ responding for the drug by biasing their reward-acquisition strategies in favor of response activation, and away from inhibitory responding. Method: Thirty-two social drinkers received either a priming dose of alcohol (0.55 g/ kg) or a placebo, prior to performing a stop-signal task to earn their choice of alcoholic drinks or alternative monetary reinforcers. Results: When alternative monetary reinforcement was of low value, alcohol was chosen more often by subjects who received the priming dose versus those who received the placebo. The priming dose also affected reward-acquisition strategies. Subjects who received the priming dose obtained reinforcers by increased response activation and reduced response inhibition. By contrast, those who received the placebo obtained reinforcers via a combination of activational and inhibitory responding. Conclusions: The results of this study show that alcohol might affect cognitive processes involved in drug reinforcement. By combining traditional operant measures of drug reinforcement with tasks that assess cognitive processes, this research offers a promising new strategy to study the role of cognitive processes in the abuse potential of a wide range of drugs. (J. Stud Alcohol 62: 646-656, 2001)