Effects of Experimental Pain Induction on Alcohol Urge, Intention to Consume Alcohol, and Alcohol Demand

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Abstract

Research suggests one determinant of alcohol consumption may be physical pain, but there is no empirical evidence that pain has a causal effect on drinking. Therefore, the primary aim of this study was to test experimental pain as a determinant of several alcohol consumption proxies: self-reported urge to drink, intention to consume alcohol, and alcohol demand. This study also was designed to test negative affect as a mediator of the effects of pain on alcohol use proxies. We hypothesized that participants randomized to experimental pain induction (vs. no pain) would report greater urge, intention, and alcohol demand, and that these effects would be mediated by increased negative affect. Participants were healthy undergraduates who were moderate-heavy drinkers (N = 61). Experimental pain was induced using a novel capsaicin-heat model intended to approximate key features of clinical pain. Results indicated that participants in the pain condition subsequently endorsed greater urge and intention to drink. Furthermore, these effects were mediated by pain-induced negative affect. We observed no effect of pain on alcohol demand. This is the first study to demonstrate a causal effect of acute pain on urge and intention to drink. Given the close association between alcohol consumption, urge and intention to drink, these findings suggest that pain may influence alcohol consumption, which can have implications for individuals with co-occurring pain and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Specifically, individuals with co-occurring pain and AUD may drink to alleviate pain-related negative affect. Therefore, improving pain-coping skills may enhance pain-management abilities, subsequently reducing coping-motivated drinking.

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