Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Contribution of Postingestive Associations to Alcohol Self-Administration

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Contribution of Postingestive Associations to Alcohol Self-Administration

Article excerpt

It is well established that certain drugs, including alcohol, function as powerful reinforcers (Thompson & Schuster, 1968). For this reason, successful strategies of substance abuse treatment should involve decreasing the reinforcing efficacy of the abused drug or increasing the reinforcing efficacy of alternative nondrug reinforcers (Skinner, 1938; Volkow, 2006). Although this strategy sounds simple, there is considerable difficulty involved in altering reinforcing efficacy. A major complexity derives from correctly identifying the nature of the reinforcing event. The reinforcement derived from alcohol consumption likely arises from multiple sources. For example, alcohol .users may drink alcohol because of the pharmacologic activation of certain neural circuits related to the pursuit of survival behavior, such as eating, drinking, and reproduction. They may also drink to alleviate withdrawal symptoms experienced upon the termination of intoxication. Moreover, they may drink to reduce stress or anxiety (anxiolysis). All of these are factors that could modulate drinking, and they are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive.

Treatments that constrain the potential factors that occasion drinking to only one of these contributions to reinforcing efficacy will likely be less successful than those that consider all of them. To design such all-encompassing treatments, it is necessary to more fully understand the different contributions to a drug's reinforcing efficacy. The experiments described in this article were designed to further elucidate the degree to which postingestive consequences, events, or experiences alter the likelihood of an individual's consuming alcohol in the future.

Our understanding of conditioned reinforcement is relevant here. Broadly defined, a conditioned reinforcer is a once-neutral stimulus that acquires reinforcing function (Hendry, 1969; Hull, 1943; Kelleher & Gollub, 1962; Keller & Schoenfeld, 1950; Williams, 1994). Although the precise mechanism(s) in which a conditioned reinforcer acquires its reinforcing efficacy is not universally agreed upon Williams, 1994), it is apparent that stimuli associated with other reinforcers acquire reinforcing properties and become conditioned reinforcers (Fantino, 1977; Fantino, Preston, & Dunn, 1993; Kelleher, 1961, 1966; Mazur, 1991, 1995; Mazur & Romano, 1992; Nevin, 1969; Pliskoff & Tolliver, 1960; Weiss, Panlilio, & Schindler, 1993). This effect has been described for a variety of reinforcers, species, and settings (Bersh & Lambert, 1975; Brun, 1970; Salzinger, Freimark, Fairhurst, & Wolkoff, 1968).

The role of conditioned reinforcement in the maintenance of drug and alcohol self-administration is widely appreciated. For example, the cues such as taste that are paired with cigarette smoking can come to acquire the properties of conditioned reinforcers based on their association with the pharmacologically derived reinforcers a cigarette smoker experiences (e.g., Palmatier et al., 2006; Rose, 2005), and these associations likely contribute to the maintenance of smoking. However, this direction of association, in which juxtaposition of a drug with a neutral stimulus confers reinforcing properties to the previously neutral stimulus, is not the focus of this article.

Instead, we examine the related idea that alcohol itself can acquire reinforcing efficacy based on events that follow its ingestion. This idea necessitates a broader perspective for understanding alcohol consumption by combining in one stimulus (i.e., alcohol) both pharmacologically derived reinforcement and additional reinforcement resulting from the association of alcohol consumption with other sources of reinforcement. Additionally, this analysis suggests that treatment strategies that do not attempt to decrease all sources of reinforcement associated with the alcohol will be less successful. For instance, treatment with a pharmaceutical agent in the absence of some supportive behavioral intervention would only reduce the pharmacologically derived reinforcement, not the reinforcement derived from previous experience with the postingestive conditioning processes. …

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