Impaired Emotional Facial Expression Recognition in Alcohol Dependence: Do These Deficits Persist With Midterm Abstinence?

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Emotional facial expression (EFE) decoding has been repetitively shown to be impaired in alcoholic inpatients. The present study aimed to replicate and extend previous findings on EFE recognition deficits in alcoholism.


Alcoholic and control participants' performances were compared on an EFE decoding task with a transversal and a longitudinal design. More specifically, 49 alcoholic individuals were recruited at a long-stay postdetoxification treatment center at the third or fourth week of their detoxification process. Twenty-two of them [abstinent alcoholic participants (AA)] were met at the end of their hospitalization process, 2 months later. The 27 remaining patients [dropping alcoholic participants(AD)] dropped out from treatment before the second meeting. A control group (C) of 22 participants was constituted, and assessed twice with the same average time as AA between the 2 assessments. The 3 groups were similar regarding age, sex, and education level. Participants were presented at both times with an EFE decoding test consisting of 16 photographs depicting EFE of happiness, anger, disgust, and sadness.


The results corroborated previous findings highlighting more EFE decoding deficits in alcoholic participants compared with control participants, with no improvement after 3 months of abstinence. Transversal analyses further evidenced more EFE decoding difficulties in AD than in AA compared with controls.


EFE decoding deficits in alcoholism persist with midterm abstinence. Alcoholic patients who dropped from treatment had the worst EFE decoding performance at baseline. Emotional facial expression decoding deficit could have a prognostic value in alcohol dependence.

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