The involuntary nature of binge drinking: goal directedness and awareness of intention

Nuria Doñamayor, Daniela Strelchuk, Kwangyeol Baek, Paula Banca, Valerie Voon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Binge drinking represents a public health issue and is a known risk factor in the development of alcohol use disorders. Previous studies have shown behavioural as well as neuroanatomical alterations associated with binge drinking. Here, we address the question of the automaticity or involuntary nature of the behaviour by assessing goal-directed behaviour and intentionality. In this study, we used a computational two-step task, designed to discern between model-based/goal-directed and model-free/habitual behaviours, and the classic Libet clock task, to study intention awareness, in a sample of 31 severe binge drinkers (BD) and 35 matched healthy volunteers. We observed that BD had impaired goal-directed behaviour in the two-step task compared with healthy volunteers. In the Libet clock task, BD showed delayed intention awareness. Further, we demonstrated that alcohol use severity, as reflected by the alcohol use disorders identification test, correlated with decreased conscious awareness of volitional intention in BD, although it was unrelated to performance on the two-step task. However, the time elapsed since the last drinking binge influenced the model-free scores, with BD showing less habitual behaviour after longer abstinence. Our findings suggest that the implementation of goal-directed strategies and the awareness of volitional intention are affected in current heavy alcohol users. However, the modulation of these impairments by alcohol use severity and abstinence suggests a state effect of alcohol use in these measures and that top-down volitional control might be ameliorated with alcohol use cessation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAddiction Biology
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2017


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