Heavy alcohol drinkers attempt to acquire alcohol despite the threat of a negative consequence more so than light drinkers, a study in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging has found, and this behavior is associated with unique activation of brain circuitry in heavy drinkers.
The findings provide evidence for a “compulsivity circuit” that may drive alcohol-seeking behavior that is resistant to negative consequences, revealing potential targets for treatments to reduce compulsive alcohol use in heavy drinkers.
First author Erica Grodin, PhD, and colleagues designed a task to assess compulsive behavior of heavy and light drinkers. In contrast to habits — which drive behavior automatically even when it’s no longer rewarding — compulsive behavior continues despite negative consequences. In the task, participants could risk receiving a painful electric shock to earn points for alcohol or food.