Positive and Negative Reinforcement Are Differentially Associated With Alcohol Consumption as a Function of Alcohol Dependence

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A multistage model of drug addiction in which individuals’ motivations for use change as they develop problems is widely accepted; however, the evidence for this model comes mostly from animal work and cross-sectional studies. We used longitudinal data to test whether positive and negative reinforcement associated with alcohol consumption differed as a function of alcohol dependence (AD). Specifically, we tested whether (a) positive reinforcement is more strongly associated with alcohol consumption than is negative reinforcement among individuals without AD, (b) negative reinforcement is more strongly associated with AD than is positive reinforcement, and (c) in the presence of AD, the association between positive reinforcement and alcohol consumption becomes weaker, whereas the association with negative reinforcement becomes stronger. We included assessments between Ages 18 and 30 years from participants who indicated they ever had a drink (N = 2,556; 51.6% female) from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism Prospective Study. Results from generalized estimating equations indicated that positive, but not negative, reinforcement was associated with alcohol consumption among individuals without AD. Both positive and negative reinforcement were associated with AD, but the association was stronger with negative reinforcement. Results from the multilevel growth model indicated that the association between negative reinforcement and alcohol consumption became stronger with the presence of AD, whereas the association between positive reinforcement and alcohol consumption did not differ as a function of AD. We provide empirical evidence that positive and negative reinforcement are differentially associated with alcohol consumption as a function of AD.

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