Alcohol Cues Impair Learning Inhibitory Signals in Beer Drinkers

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Abstract

Background:

Models of drug addiction emphasize the reciprocal influence of incentive-motivational properties of drug-related cues and poor impulse control resulting in drug use. Recent studies have shown that alcohol-related cues can impair response inhibition. What is unknown is whether these cues also disrupt learning of inhibitory associations.

Methods:

Participants performed a conditioned inhibition (CI) task and were required to learn that a neutral image was a conditioned inhibitor when presented in the context of either an alcohol image intended to draw their attention away from the to-be-trained inhibitor, or a control condition in which the alcohol image was absent. After training, subjects in each condition rated the likelihood that the neutral image would signal the outcome. Eye tracking was used to verify that attention to the neutral image was in fact reduced when the alcohol image was present.

Results:

Compared with controls those trained in the alcohol image condition reported a greater likelihood that the presence of the inhibitor would be followed by the outcome and thus were less able to acquire CI. Measures of eye tracking verified that attention to the alcohol cue was associated with this maladaptive behavior.

Conclusions:

When alcohol cues are present, there is a reduced ability to learn that such information is irrelevant to an outcome, and this impairs ones’ ability to inhibit perseveration of a response. This has implications for persistence of a drinking episode.

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