Newswise — How social drinkers experience the effects of alcohol on their mood and energy levels may help predict their future drinking habits, a new study suggests. The factors that drive some people to excessive drinking, including Alcohol Use Disorder, are not well understood. Evidence indicates that subjective responses to alcohol play a role. People who experience alcohol as a mood-lifter, for example, appear more likely to drink excessively than those who find it to be an anger trigger or powerful sedative. This association is complex, however, and interacts with other factors, possibly including the cardiovascular effects of alcohol. A study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Researchexplores how alcoholic drinks and placebo drinks affected participants’ moods and drinking behaviors.

Investigators recruited 95 healthy men and women aged 21–30. The participants attended four sampling sessions involving alcoholic and placebo drinks, and a fifth session when they chose which and how much of the two beverage options to consume. The experiment was designed with the goal that participants and researchers did not know which cups contained alcohol and which were placebo. During sampling, the participants filled out questionnaires to assess their mood and level of sedation or stimulation. Researchers monitored participants’ heart rates and blood pressure, and also considered demographic data including self-reported alcohol use. They used statistical analysis to identify associations between participants’ responses to the drinks and their subsequent choices of beverages.

In session five, 55 participants (“choosers”) opted for alcoholic drinks, and 40 (“non-choosers”) for placebo beverages. The two groups, before drinking, were similar in sex, age, BMI, alcohol use histories, and mood. They diverged in their responses to alcohol. After alcohol, choosers reported more positive moods than non-choosers and liked the drinks more. Non-choosers reported more negative effects of alcohol, notably anger and anxiety. Both groups reported a sedative effect from alcoholic drinks, though this was higher among non-choosers than choosers. The two groups were similar in their physiologic responses to drinking.

The findings may not be fully generalizable. Nevertheless, this study strengthens the evidence that alcohol’s subjective effects may predict future drinking. Positive mood effects may reinforce the urge to drink, while negative mood and heavier sedation may reduce it.  The variability of individuals’ responses to alcohol may be related to neural processes and/or genetic factors.

Subjective effects of alcohol predict alcohol choice in social drinkers. J. Li, C. Murray, J. Weafer, H. de Wit (pp xxx).