Excessive alcohol consumption is a massive problem among university students in many countries. About 49% say they have had one or more problems with alcohol use, including engaging in activities they later regret, such as unprotected sex or activities that cause physical injury.

Young people often consume alcohol in social contexts among peers, and a large body of research has shown the effects of social context and peer consumption on individual levels. There is increasing evidence to suggest that social processes play an essential role in the escalation of alcohol use and contribute to the development of disorders. 

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) conducted a study that investigated how the brains of social drinkers responded to cues associated with situations or places that encourage alcohol consumption, whether or not they were drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic. 

It is known that a person’s social environment plays a crucial role in the development and escalation of alcohol abuse and other addictions. Therefore, the team set out to explore the impact of social contexts on alcohol-related activations in the brains of young adults.

While in an fMRI scanner, the participants listened to audio simulations of social contexts in which drinking is typical (for example, a conversation at a birthday party) and viewed images. They then received an offer of water or beer written on the screen. After completing a form, they participated in a social drinking session with another person who was an experimenter without the participant’s knowledge.

During the experiment, fMRI data was collected, which allowed an understanding of which parts of the participants’ brains were activated when they were exposed to the cues (i.e., the audio recordings) and engaged in drinking behavior. In addition, they measured the amount of alcohol they drank in the presence of the “undercover” experimenter, who did or did not drink alcohol.

Associations were found between measures of alcohol consumption and brain activity during exposure to social contexts, regardless of the beverage offered, indicating that consumption-relevant social contexts may act as alcohol-relevant phasic cues. . They also found that participants’ alcohol cravings and associated brain activity were heightened when presented with cues related to the social context, regardless of whether they were offered water or a beer.

These results suggest that some social contexts may make people want to drink alcohol, regardless of whether others are consuming it and what is offered to them. 


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