Recent models of the development of addiction propose a transition from a pleasure-driven to a heavily automatized behaviour, marked by a loss of cognitive control. This study investigated the deficits in different components of cognitive functions including behavioural inhibition in response to alcohol-related stimuli in alcohol-dependent patients (ADP) and healthy controls (HC). The aims of the study were to identify which particular cognitive functions are impaired in ADP. Furthermore, we analysed the association between cognitive deficits and relapse rates and the reversibility of cognitive deficits under abstinence in a 6-month follow-up period. Ninety-four recently detoxified ADP and 71 HC completed the cognitive tasks as well as questionnaire measures assessing drinking behaviour and personality traits. Compared with HC, ADP showed poorer performance in response initiation, response inhibition, complex-sustained attention and executive functions. Impairment in response inhibition was a significant predictor for relapse, yet the strongest predictor was the interaction between the number of previous detoxifications and response-inhibition deficits. The results of a moderation analysis showed that patients with many previous detoxifications and large deficits in response inhibition showed the highest relapse risk. These findings indicate that interventions should take into account inhibitory deficits especially in ADP with a high number of previous detoxifications.
The present study demonstrated that alcohol dependent patients showed poorer performance in response initiation, response inhibition, complex sustained attention and executive functions compared to healthy controls. The strongest predictor for relapse was the interaction between the number of previous detoxifications and response inhibition deficits. Patients with many previous detoxifications and large deficits in response inhibition showed the highest relapse risk. These findings emphasise the importance of more specific interventions addressing inhibition control.