Favorable associations with alcohol and impaired self-regulation: A behavioral economic analysis


Background: Recent research has demonstrated that both poor self-regulation and favorable implicit associations toward alcohol can play important roles in predicting drinking. Less well studied, however, is how the interplay between implicit associations and self-regulation may impact decisions about alcohol consumption. Behavioral economics is one important tool that may provide insight into the cognitive processes that impact demand for alcohol and drinking decisions. Methods: Healthy young adult participants completed an Implicit Association Task (IAT) that measured the strength of associations between approach/avoid attributes and target alcohol/neutral images. Impaired self-regulation was assessed by a classic delay discounting task. Participants also completed an Alcohol Purchase Task (APT), which yields multiple behavioral economic indices, chief among which are intensity (the number of drinks a participant would consume if the drinks were free) and elasticity (the degree to which an increased per-drink price impacts the number of drinks consumed in a hypothetical drinking situation). Finally, participants completed a timeline follow-back assessment of past-90-day drinking. Results: Findings indicated that implicit approach associations toward alcohol predicted increased demand for alcohol on the APT. Although delay discounting did not have a direct effect on demand for alcohol, there was a significant interaction between IAT and delay discounting, such that higher implicit alcohol approach associations predicted particularly high demand for alcohol among participants with poorer self-regulation. APT and IAT, in turn, predicted self-reported drinking behavior. Conclusions: These results suggest that favorable attitudes toward alcohol, together with poor self-regulation, can significantly impact drinking decisions in healthy young adults.

Publication Title

Drug and Alcohol Dependence