Having a strong sense of purpose in life decreases the temptation to consume alcohol


Using functional MRI (fMRI) scanning technology, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College examined the relationship between these cues, alcohol craving, and alcohol consumption. They found that having a strong sense of purpose in life decreases the temptation to consume alcohol to excess among some social drinkers.

The study, published in Addiction, is titled “Purpose in life, neural alcohol cue reactivity and daily alcohol use in social drinkers.”

Meaning in life (defined as the pursuit of intrinsically valued goals) is inversely associated with harmful drinking (Csabonyi and Phillips, 2017, Schnetzer et al., 2013), and reductions in harmful drinking are preceded by increased self-control (Quinn & Fromme, 2010) and reduced valuation of alcohol (Murphy & Dennhardt, 2016).

In the present study we tested the hypothesis that associations between meaning in life and harmful drinking are mediated by self-control and valuation of alcohol.

Harmful alcohol consumption typically peaks and then declines during emerging adulthood (Britton, Ben-Shlomo, Benzeval, Kuh, & Bell, 2015). This “maturing-out” phenomenon (O’Malley, 2004) is often explained through the role incompatibility theory (Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1985) whereby the acquisition of adult roles and responsibilities is in direct conflict with harmful alcohol consumption and AUD (e.g. ‘role socialisation’).

These adult roles typically include parenthood, marriage, cohabitation, and employment (Staff et al., 2014, Staff et al., 2010), all of which enable the formation of identity (Piotrowski, Brzezińska, & Pietrzak, 2013) which is related to establishing a sense of ‘meaning in life’ (Negru-Subtirica, Pop, Luyckx, Dezutter, & Steger, 2016). Meaning in life can be separated into ‘presence of meaning’; the extent to which a person pursues intrinsically valued goals and experiences meaning in their life, and the ‘search for meaning’; the extent to which a person is actively seeking meaning in their life.

As people age, search for meaning in life declines whilst presence of meaning in life increases (Steger, Oishi, & Kashdan, 2009). Presence of meaning is inversely related to harmful alcohol consumption in young adults (Csabonyi & Phillips, 2017), students (Schnetzer et al., 2013) and people receiving treatment for AUD (Roos, Kirouac, Pearson, Fink, & Witkiewitz, 2015).

The relationship between search for meaning in life and alcohol consumption has not been so intensively studied, although one study demonstrated a non-significant association between the two (Csabonyi & Phillips, 2017).

Changes in self-control might be an important psychological mechanism that accompanies the declining search and increasing presence of meaning in life. Self-control reflects the capacity to exert control over thoughts, emotions, and behaviours (de Ridder, Lensvelt-Mulders, Finkenauer, Stok, & Baumeister, 2012), and it is robustly negatively correlated with harmful drinking (de Ridder et al., 2012, Dvorak et al., 2011, Quinn and Fromme, 2010).

Self-control is positively associated with presence of meaning in life and negatively associated with search for meaning in life (Li, Salcuni, & Delvecchio, 2019). One study demonstrated that the positive association between self-control and meaning in life was mediated by the perception of having structure in life (Stavrova, Pronk, & Kokkoris, 2018).

Therefore, presence of meaning in life may facilitate and maintain self-control through the ability for a person to organise and structure their life, whereas this is potentially lacking in people who are searching for meaning in life. Taken together, increased meaning in life should promote increased self-control, which in turn should be associated with reduced alcohol consumption.

The presence of meaning in life may also alter the valuation of alcohol. Alcohol’s value can be measured through alcohol purchase tasks (Murphy and MacKillop, 2006, Owens et al., 2015) and concurrent choice tasks (Hogarth & Hardy, 2018), and is positively associated with harmful drinking (see MacKillop, 2016, for a review).

When a person has valued life goals that are incompatible with harmful alcohol consumption, the benefits of alcohol may be outweighed by its costs (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). Indeed, the presence of meaning in life is inversely associated with the incentive salience of alcohol (Ostafin & Feyel, 2019), although the association between meaning in life and alcohol value has not yet been directly investigated.

reference link https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352853219302068#s0005


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