Testing the Incentive-Sensitization Theory With At-Risk Drinkers: Wanting, Liking, and Alcohol Consumption

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Motivational models of addiction typically propose that alcohol and drugs are desired because of their hedonic effects (i.e., increasing pleasure or reducing distress). In contrast, the incentive-sensitization theory proposes that wanting motivation and liking motivation are separable and that after repeated substance use, motivation shifts from liking to wanting. Using a sample of 85 at-risk drinkers (as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), in the current study we examined the separability of liking motivation and wanting motivation for alcohol and whether years of drinking experience was associated with an increased role for wanting motivation and a decreased role for liking motivation. Consumption was measured with a free-drinking task. Wanting motivation was assessed immediately before drinking, and liking was assessed immediately after drinking had begun. The results indicated that (a) wanting motivation predicted variance of consumption unique from that accounted for by liking motivation, (b) longer drinking experience was associated with a decreased relation between liking motivation and consumption, and (c) longer drinking experience was not associated with an increased relation between wanting motivation and consumption. The results provide partial support for the incentive-sensitization theory.

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