• Attentional bias;
  • impulsivity;
  • response inhibition;
  • reward-seeking;
  • social drinkers;
  • Stop Signal task


Aims  To investigate whether acute alcohol would affect performance of a conditioned behavioural response to obtain a reward outcome and impair performance in a task measuring inhibitory control to provide new knowledge of how the acute effects of alcohol might contribute to the transition from alcohol use to dependence.

Design  A randomized controlled between-subjects design was employed.

Settings  The laboratory of experimental psychology at the University of Sussex.

Participants  Thirty-two light to moderate social drinkers recruited from the undergraduate and postgraduate population.

Measurements  After the administration of alcohol (0.8 g/kg) or placebo participants underwent an instrumental reward-seeking procedure, with abstract stimuli serving as S+ (always predicting a win of 10 pence) and S− (always predicting a loss of 10 pence). In addition, a Stop Signal task was administered before and after the administration of alcohol.

Findings  Participants of the alcohol group performed the behavioural response to obtain the reward outcome more often than placebo subjects in trials associated with loss of money. This finding was observed, although alcohol was not affecting explicit knowledge of stimulus–response outcome contingencies and acquisition of conditioned attentional and emotional responses. In addition, alcohol increased Stop Signal reaction time indicating disinhibiting effects of alcohol, and this was associated positively with response probability to the S−.

Conclusions  These results demonstrate that alcohol is affecting inhibitory control of behavioural responses to external signals even when associated with punishment, contributing in this way to the transition from alcohol use to dependence.