Moderation of Alcohol Craving Reactivity to Drinking-Related Contexts by Individual Differences in Alcohol Sensitivity: An Ecological Investigation

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Abstract

Laboratory cue exposure investigations have demonstrated that, relative to drinkers who report a high sensitivity to the pharmacologic effects of alcohol, low-sensitivity (LS) drinkers show exaggerated neurocognitive and behavioral reactivity to alcohol-related stimuli. The current study extends this line of work by testing whether LS drinkers report stronger cravings for alcohol in daily life. Data were from an ecological momentary assessment study in which participants (N = 403 frequent drinkers) carried a palmtop computer for 21 days and responded to questions regarding drinking behavior, alcohol craving, mood states, and situational context. Initial analyses identified subjective states (positive and negative mood, cigarette craving) and contextual factors (bar−restaurant location, weekend, time of day, presence of friend, recent smoking) associated with elevated craving states during nondrinking moments. Effects for nearly all these craving correlates were moderated by individual differences in alcohol sensitivity, such that the associations between situational factors and current alcohol craving were larger among LS individuals (as determined by a questionnaire completed at baseline). Complementary idiographic analyses indicated that self-reported craving increased when the constellation of situational factors more closely resembled individuals’ observed drinking situations. Again, this effect was moderated by alcohol sensitivity, with greater craving response increases among LS drinkers. The findings align with predictions generated from theory and laboratory cue exposure investigations and should encourage further study of craving and incentive processes in LS drinkers.

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