Expectancy and Risk for Alcoholism: The Unfortunate Exploitation of a Fundamental Characteristic of Neurobehavioral Adaptation

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Alcohol Expectancy, Neurobehavioral Adaptation, Cognitive Neuroscience

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Psychological investigations of alcohol expectancies over the last 20 years, using primarily verbal techniques, have strongly supported expectancies as an important mediator of biological and environmental antecedent variables that influence risk for alcohol use and abuse. At the same time, rapid developments in neuroscience, cognitive science, affective science, computer science, and genetics proved to be compatible with the concept of expectancy and, in some cases, used this concept directly. By using four principles that bear on the integration of knowledge in the biological and behavioral sciences—consilience, conservation, contingency, and emergence—these developments are merged into an integrated explanation of alcoholism and other addictions. In this framework, expectancy is seen as a functional approach to adaptation and survival that has been manifested in multiple biological systems with different structures and processes. Understood in this context, addiction is not a unique behavioral problem or special pathology distinct from the neurobehavioral substrate that governs all behavior, but is rather a natural (albeit unfortunate) consequence of these same processes. The ultimate intent is to weave a working heuristic that ties together findings from molecular and molar levels of inquiry and thereby might help direct future research. Such integration is critical in the multifaceted study of addictions.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, v. 26, issue 5, p. 737-746