Acute Alcohol Effects on Attentional Bias in Heavy and Moderate Drinkers

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Abstract

Heavy drinkers show an increased attentional bias to alcohol-related stimuli compared to moderate drinkers, and this bias is thought to promote motivation for alcohol consumption (Field & Cox, 2008). Studies have begun to examine acute alcohol effects on attentional bias; however, little is known regarding how these effects might differ based on drinker type. Further, the degree to which attentional bias in response to alcohol is associated with excessive alcohol consumption remains unexplored. For the current study, 20 heavy drinkers and 20 moderate drinkers completed a visual probe task in response to placebo and two active doses of alcohol (0.45g/kg and 0.65g/kg). Participants' eye-movements were monitored and attentional bias was calculated as the difference in time spent focused on alcohol compared to neutral images. Participants' alcohol consumption was assessed by a timeline follow-back calendar and a laboratory ad lib consumption task. Results showed that heavy drinkers displayed significantly greater attentional bias than did moderate drinkers following placebo. However, heavy drinkers displayed a dose-dependent decrease in attentional bias following alcohol, whereas the drug had no effect in moderate drinkers. Individual differences in attentional bias under placebo were strongly associated with both self-reported and laboratory alcohol consumption, yet bias following alcohol administration did not predict either measure of consumption. These findings suggest that attentional bias is strongest before a drinking episode begins. As such, an attentional bias might be most influential in terms of initiation of alcohol consumption, and less of a factor in promoting continued consumption within the drinking episode.

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