A paradigm for examining stress effects on alcohol-motivated behaviors in participants with alcohol use disorder

Mary E. McCaul, Gary S. Wand, Elise M. Weerts, Xiaoqiang Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Although epidemiological research has shown an increase in drinking following stressors and trauma, limited paradigms have been validated to study the relationship between stress and drinking in the human laboratory. The current study developed a progressive ratio (PR) operant procedure to examine the effects of psychosocial stress on alcohol craving and several alcohol-motivated behaviors in persons with alcohol use disorder. Current heavy, nontreatment-seeking drinkers (N = 30) were media-recruited and completed a comprehensive assessment of recent drinking, mood and health. Participants were admitted to the clinical research unit and underwent 4-day, physician-monitored alcohol abstinence. On days 4 and 5, participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test or a neutral session in random order followed by the alcohol-motivated response (AMR) procedure in which subjects worked for money or alcohol under a PR operant procedure. Subjects received earned money vouchers or alcohol at the conclusion of the session. The Trier Social Stress Test increased alcohol craving and rate of responding and decreased the number of changeovers between alcohol versus money reinforcers on the PR schedule. There was a positive relationship between alcohol craving and drinks earned during the stress session. This novel paradigm provides an experimental platform to examine motivation to drink without confounding by actual alcohol ingestion during the work session, thereby setting the stage for future studies of alcohol interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)836-845
Number of pages10
JournalAddiction Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • alcohol craving
  • alcohol use disorder
  • alcohol-motivated responding
  • human laboratory
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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