Do you find drinking alcohol pleasurable? If so, you are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD), a new study suggests.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, indicate that individuals developing an AUD are more likely to be sensitized to the effects of alcohol — that is, they experience a stronger positive response — rather than habituated to the substance with a lower level of response.
“These pleasurable alcohol effects grow in intensity over time, and do not dissipate, in people progressing in excessive drinking,” said lead author Andrea King, Professor at the University of Chicago in the US.
“This tells us that having a higher sensitivity to the rewarding effects of alcohol in the brain puts such individuals at higher risk for developing an addiction,” King added.
For the study, the team followed a cohort of 190 young adults in a laboratory-based binge drinking scenario at three regular intervals over the course of 10 years. When retested on their responses 10 years later, those who became alcoholics had the highest levels of alcohol stimulation, liking, and wanting – and these were heightened compared to their baseline with no signs of tolerance to these pleasurable effects.
The study showed that higher sensitivity to the euphoric and rewarding effects of alcohol can predict who will go on to have an AUD as they progress through their 20s and 30s. “Our results support a theory called incentive-sensitization,” said King.
“In response to a standard intoxicating dose of alcohol in the laboratory, ratings of wanting more alcohol increased substantially over the decade among the individuals who developed more severe AUD. Additionally, the hedonic response — essentially, how much a person liked the effects — remained elevated over this interval and didn’t go down at all. This has traditionally been the crux of the lore of addiction — that addicts don’t like the drug (alcohol) but can’t stop using it,” King added.