Aims. To investigate the role of sensitivity to reward in mediating social drinkers' reactivity to alcohol cues. Design. A standard cue-reactivity paradigm was employed. Two groups of social drinkers (heavy and light) were assessed after exposure to the sight, smell and taste of a neutral cue (water) and then an alcohol cue (glass of beer). Setting. Sessions were conducted in a laboratory based environment. Participants. Twenty heavy (12 males, eight females) and 18 light social drinkers (seven males, 11 females) were recruited; mean age was 23.6 years. Measurements. The Card Arranging Reward Responsivity Objective Test (CARROT), assessing behavioural reponsiveness to a monetary incentive; urge to drink; positive affect; and the BAS scales, assessing sensitivity to reward. Findings. Heavy drinkers displayed a significant increase in responsivity to rewards (i.e. CARROT) and self-reported urge to drink, but not positive affect, after exposure to alcohol. For the heavy drinkers, heightened sensitivity to reward (i.e. BAS scales) was significantly related to cue-elicited urge to drink and positive affect. Conclusion. The results are consistent with a conditioned appetitive motivational model of alcohol use and suggest that Gray's theory of personality may be of some benefit in explaining variation in reactivity responses.