Some people keep drinking because of the pleasure they derive when discussing their drink – like how it tastes, smells and looks, says an Indian-origin researcher, adding that like animals, humans can also be conditioned to associate environmental cues with rewards that can lead to an alcohol addiction.
“Alcohol addiction is compounded by our ability to learn about predictive cues”, said Lead Author Nadia Chaudhri from Canada’s Concordia University.
“Conditioned reactions to those cues can trigger behaviours that result in drinking, like reaching out for a beer”, she added.
The results, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, suggest that cues that predict alcohol can become highly desirable. Therefore, people may keep drinking because of the pleasure derived from our interactions with them.
Drinkers wishing to make a change in their habits should not just focus on the alcohol itself but on all the factors that surround alcohol consumption.
“Many people have specialised glassware for different kinds of drinks and strong preferences for what they drink”, Chaudhri explained.
These preferences could be driven by the sensory properties of alcohol, like its taste, smell and how it looks.
“It is important for people to realise that drinking alcohol is a complex behaviour and, in addition to what alcohol does to our brains, it also plays a role in regulating our behaviours”, she added.
For the study, the researchers worked with 25 lab rats who were conditioned to be associated with a specific cue with the presence of ethanol.
The researchers paired a visual cue with the ethanol so that rats would come to expect alcohol every time they saw that cue.
Eventually, when the cue was presented, rats approached the location where alcohol was about to be delivered. But after a time, they stopped performing this behaviour and instead began approaching and interacting with the cue.
It suggests that a cue that predicts alcohol can become highly desirable.
“Lots of our behaviours are governed by fundamental learning mechanisms that are also present in other animal species”, said Chaudhri.
“By modelling these behaviours in rats, we can better understand the factors that control how these behaviours are acquired and maintained in humans”, she added.