Longitudinal examination of alcohol demand and alcohol-related reinforcement as predictors of heavy drinking and adverse alcohol consequences in emerging adults

Addiction. 2024 Jun;119(6):1090-1099. doi: 10.1111/add.16443. Epub 2024 Feb 20.


Background and aims: Behavioral economic theory predicts that high alcohol demand and high proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement are important determinants of risky alcohol use in emerging adults, but the majority of research to date has been cross-sectional in nature. The present study investigated prospective and dynamic relationships between alcohol demand and proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement in relation to heavy drinking days and alcohol problems.

Design: Longitudinal cohort with assessments every 4 months for 20 months.

Setting: Ontario, Canada.

Participants: Emerging adults reporting regular heavy episodic drinking (n = 636, Mage = 21.44; 55.8% female).

Measurements: Heavy drinking days (HDD; Daily Drinking Questionnaire), alcohol problems (Brief Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Questionnaire), alcohol demand (Alcohol Purchase Task) and proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement (Activity Level Questionnaire).

Findings: Linear mixed effects models revealed that behavioral economic indicators and alcohol-related outcomes significantly decreased over the study, consistent with 'aging out' of risky alcohol use. Random intercept cross-lagged panel models revealed significant between-person relationships, such that higher alcohol demand and alcohol-related reinforcement were positively associated with HDD and alcohol problems (random intercepts = 0.187-0.534, Ps < 0.01). Moreover, alcohol demand indicators (particularly the rate of change in elasticity of the demand curve, as measured by α, and the maximum expenditure, Omax) and proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement significantly forecasted changes in HDD at all time points (|βs| = 0.063-0.103, Ps < 0.05) in cross-lagged relationships, with bidirectional associations noted for the rate of change in elasticity (βs = -0.085 to -0.104, Ps < 0.01). Proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement also significantly forecasted changes in alcohol problems at all time points (βs = 0.072-0.112, Ps < 0.01).

Conclusions: Multiple behavioral economic indicators (demand elasticity, maximum expenditure and reinforcement ratio) forecast changes in heavy episodic drinking and alcohol problems over the course of emerging adulthood. These results further implicate alcohol demand and proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement as etiologically and developmentally important mechanisms in alcohol use trajectories.

Keywords: Alcohol Purchase Task; alcohol use; alternative reinforcement; behavioral economics; reinforcer pathology; substance use; temporal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking* / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking* / psychology
  • Binge Drinking / epidemiology
  • Economics, Behavioral
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult