Affective processing in acute alcohol intoxication
Balodis, Iris Monique
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Maladaptive decision-making that typifies drug addiction could reflect alterations in cognitive and emotional processing when these individuals are faced with choices. Even if this is true, it is not clear whether these deficits are a cause or a consequence of chronic drug use. The following experiments were designed to determine the effect of acute alcohol intoxication on affective processing in healthy individuals, as measured through a variety of behaviours. In the first experiment, acute alcohol intoxication did not impair performance on a task that recruits the orbitofrontal cortex, a key area for decision-making. In the second experiment examining preference formation, there was a clear dissociation between alcohol’s effect on implicit and explicit memory: acute intoxication impaired explicit memory, while leaving implicit learning intact. In a subsequent experiment, both alcohol and placebo groups showed altered physiological and subjective responses to a psychosocial stressor. Although acute alcohol intoxication did not affect risk-taking, an individual variable (tension-reactivity) moderated performance on this laboratory task. This experiment also revealed a relationship between stress-reactivity and subsequent risk-taking, one explanation being that high levels of cortisol increased individual sensitivity to task outcomes. Finally, an analysis of the accumulated information on drinking rates, impulsivity, and drug use suggests that female drinking rates may be approaching the levels reported by males. There were also significant differences in sensitivity to alcohol’s effects when participants were intoxicated in the lab. Heavy drinkers showed a greater sensitivity to the pleasurable effects of alcohol despite feeling less intoxicated and desiring more alcohol than other individuals. These combined effects could put heavy drinkers at greater risk for alcohol-related problems. Taken as a whole, these studies suggest that individual factors play a stronger role in moderating affective processing than do the direct pharmacological effects of alcohol.