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Individual Differences in the Priming Effect of Ethanol in Social Drinkers

J.M. Kirk, Harriet de Wit

Objective: Alcohol-dependent individuals frequently report increased desire for alcohol and exhibit increased alcohol-seeking behaviors following a single drink. The phenomenon, known as priming, has been demonstrated in the laboratory in alcohol-dependent humans and in nonhumans, but the effect is inconsistently observed in nonproblem social drinkers. The current experiment examined this effect in healthy, nonproblem social drinkers across a range of preload doses. Method: Using a repeated-measures design, 12 social drinkers were given ethanol (0.2, 0.4 or 0.8 g/kg) or placebo preloads. Various subjective effects measures were obtained at regular intervals. In addition, before and after consuming, the preload subjects performed an operant task on which they made repeated choices for either ethanol or money. Results: Ethanol dose-dependently increased subjective reports of drug liking and desire to take more ethanol. When data from all subjects were examined, ethanol did not affect choices for ethanol on the choice task. However, in subjects who reported the greatest positive mood effects from ethanol (0.8 g/kg), the ethanol preload increased choices for ethanol over money on the choice task. Conclusions: These findings provide evidence for a priming effect of ethanol in social drinkers as measured by increased subjective desire for drug. The findings also suggest that the priming effects may be strongest in individuals who experience the greatest subjective positive mood effects from ethanol. (J. Stud. Alcohol 61: 64-71, 2000)