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Social support (SS), or having people to depend on during times of stress, may offer an emotional and neurological buffer to problem drinking. Specifically, SS may modulate reward and stress-related brain responses to mitigate perceptions of alcohol reward and stress. There is limited evidence, however, on this topic and specifically on brain networks that may modulate SS effects on stress and alcohol reward. Here we present a review of the current literature on this topic as well as data from a large community sample of 115 social drinkers. Findings from a novel fMRI task viewing alcohol cue, stress, and neutral images, in separate blocks, while providing ratings on subjective feelings of alcohol craving, stress, and arousal are included. Lower SS significantly predicted greater alcohol craving during alcohol cue and stress conditions, higher baseline levels of stress, and greater arousal in the alcohol cue, relative to neutral condition. Remarkably, individuals with low SS showed greater reward activation (ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VmPFC) and ventral striatum) during alcohol cue exposure, while those with high SS showed no such activation (p < 0.001, family wise error corrected at 0.05). Furthermore, individuals with lower SS showed greater stress circuit (VmPFC, dorsal striatum, and periaqueductal gray) activation not observed in the high SS groups. Both groups showed increased amygdala activation under stress condition. The findings support the notion that SS is a powerful modulator of stress response and reward motivation. High SS buffers neural and subjective stress responses, while low SS potentiates greater reward seeking with higher alcohol craving and greater brain activation during alcohol cue exposure. Previous research and current results suggest the need to further explore the role of SS in those at risk of developing alcohol use disorder and assess novel prevention strategies to boost SS in at-risk drinkers. © 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


Nia Fogelman, Seungju Hwang, Rajita Sinha, Dongju Seo. Social Support Effects on Neural Stress and Alcohol Reward Responses. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences. 2022;54:461-482

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PMID: 34734391

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