Newswise — Many studies of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) use tasks that involve monetary rewards or losses to examine individual decision-making vis-à-vis alcohol and other substance use. Yet drinking typically occurs in specific social and incentive contexts that do not involve economic decision-making. This study examined decisions about attending, and drinking in, hypothetical drinking/social contexts wherein several different incentive and disincentive options were provided to the individual.

Researchers used community advertisements to recruit 434 adults (240 men, 194 women), between 18 and 30 years of age, who varied widely in lifetime alcohol use as well as antisocial problems. Using a computer screen, all participants were presented with six different hypothetical scenarios of drinking at a party; incentives involved party-time fun activities and disincentives involved next-day responsibilities.

Antisocial symptoms were associated with a reduced sensitivity to potentially negative consequences of drinking, while alcohol problems were associated with a greater sensitivity to the rewarding aspects of partying. Next-day responsibility disincentives had substantial effects on discouraging decisions about attendance, even for those with many alcohol problems. The authors contend that there is value in directly assessing drinking-related decisions in different hypothetical contexts, and in assessing decisions about attendance at risky drinking events and drinking-amount decisions while there.