A multimodal, longitudinal investigation of alcohol's emotional rewards and drinking over time in young adults

Psychol Addict Behav. 2020 Aug;34(5):601-612. doi: 10.1037/adb0000567. Epub 2020 Mar 2.


Theories of alcohol use disorder (AUD) have long suggested that alcohol's emotional rewards play a key role in reinforcing problematic drinking. Studies employing survey methods, in which participants recall and aggregate their experiences with alcohol in a single questionnaire, indicate that self-reported expectancies and motivations surrounding alcohol's emotional rewards predict problematic drinking trajectories over time. The current study is the first to combine laboratory alcohol-administration, ambulatory methods, and longitudinal follow-ups to assess whether alcohol's ability to enhance positive mood and reduce negative mood predicts later drinking problems. Sixty young heavy social drinkers (50% female) participated in laboratory-based alcohol-administration, attending both alcohol (target blood alcohol concentration [BAC] .08%) and no-alcohol laboratory sessions. Forty-eight of these participants also wore transdermal alcohol monitors and completed mood surveys outside the laboratory for 7 days. Participants reported on their drinking at 18-month follow-up (90% compliance). Controlling for baseline drinking, greater negative mood reduction from alcohol at baseline predicted more drinking problems at follow-up, an effect that emerged as consistent across methods capturing alcohol's emotional rewards in the laboratory, b = -.24, p = .02, as well as via ambulatory methods, b = -3.14, p = .01. Greater positive mood enhancement from alcohol, captured via laboratory methods, also predicted drinking problems, b = .16, p = .03, and binge drinking, b = 3.22, p = .02, at follow-up. Models examining drinking frequency/quantity were nonsignificant. Results provide support for emotional reward as a potential factor in the development of problematic drinking. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Blood Alcohol Content
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult


  • Blood Alcohol Content