Drinking for relief produces a different reaction in the brain than drinking for reward does
Different people drink alcohol for different reasons. Knowing someone’s motivation can help researchers develop more personalized treatments for problematic drinking. Studies show that reward drinkers, those who say that drinking makes them feel good, behave differently from relief drinkers, those who drink because it makes them feel less bad (i.e., they are self-medicating or alleviating withdrawal symptoms).
In a recent study, we aimed to explore whether these two categories of heavy drinkers also showed differences in their brains. Specifically, do reward and relief drinkers have different patterns of neural activation when looking at pictures of alcoholic beverages?
To answer this question, we recruited people who drink heavily and categorized them into reward- and relief-drinking groups using the Reward/Relief/Habit Drinking Scale and the Reasons for Heavy Drinking Questionnaire. Previous research suggested that while most people begin drinking for positive reinforcement (reward), as they continue to drink heavily for a long period of time, they begin to drink out of negative reinforcement (relief).