Newswise — People who’ve been provoked to anger are willing to purchase alcohol at higher prices, but may not be aware of their increased urge to drink, according to a new study. Anger, hostility, and aggression are known to relate to drinking, with anger a risk factor for heavy alcohol use. Building on previous studies that have deliberately manipulated emotional states to explore their effects on substance use, researchers at Wayne State University, Michigan, designed an experiment that could help clarify whether anger can motivate people to drink . For the study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the investigators sought to induce anger in participants and measure the effect of that anger on the desire to drink. They used two measures of drinking urges: self-reported alcohol craving and a behavioral task that assesses people’s motivation to drink.

The researchers worked with 231 adults who had reported either weekly drinking or recent binge drinking. The participants filled out questionnaires designed to measure their underlying tendencies toward anger, as well as how angry they felt and how much alcohol craving they were experiencing at the beginning of the study. Each participant then played a competitive computer game with small money prizes. They had been randomly assigned to either a provocative version of the game or a neutral version; in the provocative task, the participants had fictional partners who subtracted money from their winnings. In the neutral task, no money was subtracted from their earnings. After the game, the players repeated the questionnaire on alcohol craving. They also completed a behavioral task that explored how much alcohol they would purchase at various prices (a measure of demand for alcohol). The investigators used statistical analysis to look for associations between the version of the computer task that participants completed, participants’ anger levels, demographic factors, and alcohol craving and demand.

Before playing the computer game, the two groups — participants in the provocation versus the neutral tasks — scored similarly on measures of underlying anger and alcohol craving. However, those in the provocation group reported significant increases in anger, whereas those in the neutral group did not. After playing the game, the provoked participants were willing to purchase drinks at higher prices compared to those in the neutral group — in other words, their inclination to buy alcohol was more persistent, and less sensitive to price increases. This finding is in line with previous research suggesting that intense unpleasant emotion can motivate people to drink.

The provoked participants did not report higher alcohol craving than their neutral counterparts, possibly because the influence of anger on the desire to drink may be subconscious or automatic. Research suggests that demand for a substance is distinct from craving it; people consuming more may not be aware of wanting more. Higher underlying hostility was associated with higher alcohol demand, including a willingness to spend more money on alcohol, but did not seem to exacerbate the effects of provocation. Higher incomes were also associated with higher demand, and older age was linked to reduced craving.

The researchers recommend further investigation into the impact of induced anger on the likelihood of substance use, using varying experimental manipulations, and the role of other emotional states, such as fear. This study has limitations and is likely not generalizable to people with alcohol use disorder.

The effects of anger on alcohol demand and subjective alcohol craving. J. Ellis, E. Grekin (pages xxx).