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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Apr;40(4):672-85. doi: 10.1111/acer.13004. Epub 2016 Mar 19.

The Behavioral Economics and Neuroeconomics of Alcohol Use Disorders.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, McMaster University/St Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Homewood Research Institute, Homewood Health Centre, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.



Behavioral economics and neuroeconomics bring together perspectives and methods from psychology, economics, and cognitive neuroscience to understand decision making and choice behavior. Extending an operant behavioral theoretical framework, these perspectives have increasingly been applied to understand the alcohol use disorders (AUDs), and this review surveys the theory, methods, and findings from this approach. The focus is on 3 key behavioral economic concepts: delay discounting (i.e., preferences for smaller immediate rewards relative to larger delayed rewards), alcohol demand (i.e., alcohol's reinforcing value), and proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement (i.e., relative amount of psychosocial reinforcement associated with alcohol use).


Delay discounting has been linked to AUDs in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies and has been investigated cross-sectionally using neuroimaging. Alcohol demand and proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement have both been robustly associated with drinking and alcohol misuse cross-sectionally, but not over time. Both have also been found to predict treatment response to brief interventions. Alcohol demand has also been used to enhance the measurement of acute motivation for alcohol in laboratory studies. Interventions that focus on reducing the value of alcohol by increasing alternative reinforcement and response cost have been found to be efficacious, albeit in relatively small numbers of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Mediators and moderators of response to these interventions have not been extensively investigated.


The application of behavioral economics and neuroeconomics to AUDs has given rise to an extensive body of empirical work, although significant gaps in knowledge remain. In particular, there is a need for more longitudinal investigations to clarify the etiological roles of these behavioral economic processes, especially alcohol demand and proportionate alcohol reinforcement. Additional RCTs are needed to extend and generalize the findings for reinforcement-based interventions and to investigate mediators and moderators of treatment success for optimization. Applying neuroeconomics to AUDs remains at an early stage and has been primarily descriptive to date, but has high potential for important translational insights into the future. The same is true for using these behavioral economic indicators to understand genetic influences on AUDs.


Alcohol; Alcohol Demand; Behavioral Economics; Delay Discounting; Neuroeconomics; Proportionate Alcohol-Related Reinforcement

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