Computational Psychiatry & Decision-making

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  • doi pdf Drunk decisions: Alcohol shifts choice from habitual towards goal-directed control in adolescent intermediate-risk drinkers
  • Obst E, Schad DJ, Huys QJM, Sebold M,, Nebe S, Sommer C, Smolka MN and Zimmermann US.
  • J Psychopharmacol (2018) 32(8):855-866
  • Background: Studies in humans and animals suggest a shift from goal-directed to habitual decision-making in addiction. We therefore tested whether acute alcohol administration reduces goal-directed and promotes habitual decision-making, and whether these effects are moderated by self-reported drinking problems. Methods: Fifty-three socially drinking males completed the two-step task in a randomised crossover design while receiving an intravenous infusion of ethanol (blood alcohol level=80 mg%), or placebo. To minimise potential bias by long-standing heavy drinking and subsequent neuropsychological impairment, we tested 18- to 19-year-old adolescents. Results: Alcohol administration consistently reduced habitual, model-free decisions, while its effects on goal-directed, model-based behaviour varied as a function of drinking problems measured with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. While adolescents with low risk for drinking problems (scoring <8) exhibited an alcohol-induced numerical reduction in goal-directed choices, intermediate-risk drinkers showed a shift away from habitual towards goal-directed decision-making, such that alcohol possibly even improved their performance. Conclusions: We assume that alcohol disrupted basic cognitive functions underlying habitual and goal-directed decisions in low-risk drinkers, thereby enhancing hasty choices. Further, we speculate that intermediate-risk drinkers benefited from alcohol as a negative reinforcer that reduced unpleasant emotional states, possibly displaying a novel risk factor for drinking in adolescence.