Attentional Biases in Abstinent Alcoholics and Their Association With Craving

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Abstract

Previous investigations of attentional bias for alcohol cues in abstinent alcoholics indicate enhanced processing of alcohol cues on the modified Stroop task, and a more complicated “vigilance-avoidance” pattern of attentional bias on the visual probe task. Given that, in general, subjective craving is positively associated with attentional bias, we predicted that attentional biases in abstinent alcoholics would depend on their level of alcohol craving. In the present study 28 alcoholic patients, who had recently commenced a day treatment program, and 26 social drinking controls completed an alcohol Stroop task, a visual probe task with three stimulus durations (200, 500, and 2,000 ms), and self-report assessments of craving and alcohol dependence. On the alcohol Stroop task, abstinent alcoholics showed a greater interference effect for alcohol-related than neutral words, relative to social drinkers. On the visual probe task, alcoholic patients who reported a high level of craving exhibited a greater attentional bias toward alcohol cues, relative to both patients reporting a low level of craving, and social drinker controls. Alcoholics who reported low levels of craving showed avoidance of alcohol cues at 500 ms, relative to social drinkers. Among alcoholics, early dropout from treatment was associated with the severity of alcohol dependence and the strength of subjective craving, but it was not associated with measures of attentional bias. These results clarify the importance of subjective craving as a correlate of attentional biases in abstinent alcoholics.

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