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Understanding Alcohol Reward in Social Context

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT03449095
Recruitment Status : Suspended (COVID-19)
First Posted : February 28, 2018
Last Update Posted : December 17, 2020
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
Catharine Fairbairn, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Brief Summary:
In this study, the investigators examine whether emotional and social reward from alcohol varies depending on the social context of consumption.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment Phase
Alcohol Drinking Alcohol Use Disorder Alcohol Intoxication Alcohol; Harmful Use Alcoholism Binge Drinking Drug: Alcohol Not Applicable

Detailed Description:

Objective: Although the vast majority of alcohol consumption outside the laboratory occurs in social context, experimental studies of alcohol's emotionally reinforcing effects have overwhelmingly examined individuals drinking in isolation. The current study examines motivationally salient elements of everyday social drinking contexts as moderators of alcohol-related reinforcement. More specifically, the present study examine whether alcohol is more reinforcing within the context of unfamiliar vs. familiar social interaction and, further, whether alcohol is more reinforcing within the context of low vs. high quality social relationships. The current study furthermore examine whether individuals with characteristics that put them at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder (e.g., male gender, impulsive/extraverted personality profile, heavy patterns of consumption, family history of AUD, ...) exhibit heightened emotional reinforcement from alcohol within these social drinking contexts.

The current project represents a test of competing theories of alcohol reinforcement. Alcohol myopia theory-which has heretofore represented the most prominent theory of alcohol's effects-predicts that alcohol's ability to relieve stress depends on the nature (positive or negative) of stimuli in the drinker's immediate environment. Alcohol myopia theory might thus predict that alcohol's rewarding effects will be larger within familiar interactions and within secure relationships. In contrast, the social attributional theory of alcohol reinforcement predicts that alcohol-related reinforcement will be most pronounced within the context of unfamiliar social interactions.

In addition to providing an opportunity to test contextual and individual-level moderators of alcohol reinforcement, the current study represents an opportunity to directly test the replicability of research indicating a pronounced reinforcing effect of alcohol specifically within interactions among unfamiliar individuals (Sayette et al., 2012; Fairbairn et al., 2013).

Study Population: Participants will consist of 600 male and female drinkers, aged 21-30, with no reported history of severe alcohol use disorder. Participants will be sampled such that at least 360 of these participants will classify as heavy drinkers.

Design: In the laboratory arm of the study, individuals will be randomly assigned to consume either a moderate dose of alcohol or a control beverage in the company of either familiar or unfamiliar individuals. Of these individuals, a subset will also participate in an ambulatory assessment period over the course of several weeks to examine the interaction of alcohol and social contextual factors in daily life. In the ambulatory study arm, participants will wear transdermal sensors to assess BAC and will further provide information about their mood and their social contexts in response to random prompts.

Outcome Measures: Primary outcome measures include self-reports of positive and negative mood and perceived social reinforcement. The investigators will also examine facial expressions using the Facial Action Coding System, a comprehensive, anatomically-based system for categorizing facial muscle movement. One aim of the current study is to examine whether differential reinforcement from alcohol in unfamiliar social contexts emerges only with respect to self-reports, or is also observable within facial behaviors.

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Study Type : Interventional  (Clinical Trial)
Estimated Enrollment : 600 participants
Allocation: Randomized
Intervention Model: Factorial Assignment
Masking: Single (Outcomes Assessor)
Primary Purpose: Basic Science
Official Title: Examining the Impact of Stress on the Emotionally Reinforcing Properties of Alcohol in Heavy Social Drinkers: A Multimodal Investigation Integrating Laboratory and Ambulatory Methods
Actual Study Start Date : November 4, 2017
Estimated Primary Completion Date : September 1, 2023
Estimated Study Completion Date : September 1, 2023

Resource links provided by the National Library of Medicine

Drug Information available for: Ethanol

Arm Intervention/treatment
Experimental: Alcohol Administration
A moderate dose of alcohol (Target BAC .08%)
Drug: Alcohol
Alcohol Target BAC .08%

No Intervention: Control Beverage Administration
Participants consume a non-alcoholic beverage

Primary Outcome Measures :
  1. Self-Reported Emotion [ Time Frame: 1 day (laboratory session) ]
    Positive and negative emotion will be assessed during the laboratory beverage-administration session via self-report on the "8-item Mood Measure."

  2. Self-Reported Social Reinforcement [ Time Frame: 1 day (laboratory session) ]
    Social reinforcement will be assessed using an index of perceived social closeness as well as a modified version of the Perceived Group Reinforcement Scale.

Secondary Outcome Measures :
  1. Social Bonding [ Time Frame: 1 day (laboratory session) ]
    Social bonding will be assessed during the laboratory beverage-administration session. This will be assessed by examining the synchronization among group members of facial expressions of emotion.

  2. Self-Reported Emotion [ Time Frame: 2-3 week ambulatory assessment period ]
    Positive and negative emotion will be assessed during the ambulatory assessment period via self-report on the "8-item Mood Measure."

  3. Interpersonal Distance [ Time Frame: 1 day (laboratory session) ]
    Physical proximity to other participants during the experiment

Information from the National Library of Medicine

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Ages Eligible for Study:   21 Years to 30 Years   (Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Gender Based Eligibility:   Yes
Gender Eligibility Description:   May be either male or female, but must be same as gender assigned at birth.
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Between the ages of 21 and 30
  • Currently drinks alcohol
  • Able to provide at least 2 same-gender friend referrals

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Female participant is pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • Endorsed medical disorder caused by, or made worse by, alcohol
  • History of severe alcohol problems
  • Use of drugs known to interact with alcohol

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its identifier (NCT number): NCT03449095

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United States, Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Champaign, Illinois, United States, 61820
Sponsors and Collaborators
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Principal Investigator: Catharine E Fairbairn, Ph.D. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Responsible Party: Catharine Fairbairn, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Identifier: NCT03449095    
Other Study ID Numbers: R01AA025969 ( U.S. NIH Grant/Contract )
First Posted: February 28, 2018    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: December 17, 2020
Last Verified: December 2020

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Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Drug Product: No
Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Device Product: No
Additional relevant MeSH terms:
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Binge Drinking
Alcoholic Intoxication
Alcohol Drinking
Drinking Behavior
Alcohol-Related Disorders
Substance-Related Disorders
Chemically-Induced Disorders
Mental Disorders