Intoxication without anticipation: Disentangling pharmacological from expected effects of alcohol

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The pharmacological effects of alcohol on executive function, craving and subsequent alcohol-seeking have been well-documented. Yet, insufficient methodological controls within existing alcohol administration paradigms have meant that the relative importance of alcohol’s pharmacological and anticipatory effects remain in need of further elucidation.
To disentangle alcohol’s pharmacological from its anticipatory effects on alcohol-related cognitions and subsequent consumption.
Inhibitory control, attentional bias and craving were assessed pre- and post-consumption in 100 participants who were randomly allocated to one of four beverage conditions in a two by two design: (i) alcohol aware (alcohol with participant knowledge [pharmacological/anticipation effects]) (ii) alcohol blind (alcohol without participant knowledge; in a novel grain alcohol masking condition [pharmacological/no anticipation effects]) (iii) placebo (no alcohol but participants were deceived [anticipation/non-pharmacological effects]) and (iv) pure control (no alcohol with participant knowledge [no anticipation/non-pharmacological effects]).
Findings suggest that the pharmacological effects of alcohol result in greater inhibitory control impairments compared with anticipated effects. Anticipatory but not the pharmacological effects of alcohol were found to increase attentional bias. Both pharmacology and anticipation resulted in increased craving, though higher levels of craving were observed due to alcohol’s pharmacology. Furthermore, alcohol pharmacology resulted in heightened ad libitum consumption, however, anticipation did not. Changes in craving partially mediated the relationship between initial intoxication and subsequent drinking, while inhibitory control impairments did not.
Successive alcohol consumption appears driven primarily by the pharmacological effects of alcohol which are exerted via changes in craving.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Aug 2021


  • Intoxication


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