Alcohol Increases Delay and Probability Discounting of Condom-Protected Sex: A Novel Vector for Alcohol-Related HIV Transmission

Patrick S. Johnson, Mary M. Sweeney, Evan S. Herrmann, Matthew W. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Alcohol use, especially at binge levels, is associated with sexual HIV risk behavior, but the mechanisms through which alcohol increases sexual risk taking are not well-examined. Delay discounting, that is, devaluation of future consequences as a function of delay to their occurrence, has been implicated in a variety of problem behaviors, including risky sexual behavior. Probability discounting is studied with a similar framework as delay discounting, but is a distinct process in which a consequence is devalued because it is uncertain or probabilistic. Methods: Twenty-three, nondependent alcohol users (13 male, 10 female; mean age = 25.3 years old) orally consumed alcohol (1 g/kg) or placebo in 2 separate experimental sessions. During sessions, participants completed tasks examining delay and probability discounting of hypothetical condom-protected sex (Sexual Delay Discounting Task, Sexual Probability Discounting Task) and of hypothetical and real money. Results: Alcohol decreased the likelihood that participants would wait to have condom-protected sex versus having immediate, unprotected sex. Alcohol also decreased the likelihood that participants would use an immediately available condom given a specified level of sexually transmitted infection (STI) risk. Alcohol did not affect delay discounting of money, but it did increase participants' preferences for larger, probabilistic monetary rewards over smaller, certain rewards. Conclusions: Acute, binge-level alcohol intoxication may increase sexual HIV risk by decreasing willingness to delay sex in order to acquire a condom in situations where one is not immediately available, and by decreasing sensitivity to perceived risk of STI contraction. These findings suggest that delay and probability discounting are critical, but heretofore unrecognized, processes that may mediate the relations between alcohol use and HIV risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1339-1350
Number of pages12
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Alcohol
  • Condom use
  • Delay discounting
  • Probability discounting
  • Sexual HIV risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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