Learned associations between alcohol and the places where drinking occurs (called contextual conditioning) are important at every stage of alcohol abuse and addiction. Contextual conditioning can trigger craving and relapse even after long periods of abstinence. It may also influence drinking by potentiating the subjectively rewarding effects of alcohol, and it may contribute to a loss of control over drinking by impairing the cognitive control of behavior in the alcohol conditioned environment. Thus, an understanding of the development and persistence of conditioning is essential to developing effective treatments for alcohol abuse. In our laboratory, we have developed a model to measure contextual drug associations in humans. Here, we will use the model to study how contextual associations with alcohol are established in healthy moderate drinkers, how they influence acute subjective responses to alcohol, and how they alter cognitive behaviors in the drug-taking environment.
Aim 1 will assess conditioned liking of a place where participants consistently consumed alcohol, compared to placebo.
Aim 2 will investigate how the acute subjective effects of alcohol are changed by consumption in a consistent environment.
Aim 3 will assess working memory and response inhibition in a place paired with alcohol consumption relative to a place paired with placebo. Data from this study will provide a better understanding of how alcohol becomes associated with the places where it is consumed and the mechanisms by which contextual conditioning could influence drinking in the environment. This information can then be applied to design treatments aimed at breaking these associations or dampening their effects to reduce excessive drinking and relapse.

Public Health Relevance

Drinkers form powerful associations with the places where they consume alcohol. These associations influence all stages of alcohol abuse and addiction and represent a unique target for treatment, but they have not been studied in detail in humans. This project will examine the formation of conditioned associations between alcohol and the context in which it is consumed in humans, and study their effects upon responses to alcohol and cognitive behavior.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
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Witt, Ellen
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University of Chicago
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Lutz, Joseph A; Childs, Emma (2017) Erratum to: Test-retest reliability of the underlying latent factor structure of alcohol subjective response. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 234:1307-1308
Lutz, Joseph A; Childs, Emma (2017) Test-retest reliability of the underlying latent factor structure of alcohol subjective response. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 234:1209-1216
Childs, Emma; de Wit, Harriet (2016) Alcohol-induced place conditioning in moderate social drinkers. Addiction 111:2157-2165