The Human Startle Reflex and Alcohol Cue Reactivity: Effects of Early Versus Late Abstinence

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This study investigated the human eyeblink startle reflex as a measure of alcohol cue reactivity. Alcohol-dependent participants early (n = 36) and late (n = 34) in abstinence received presentations of alcohol and water cues. Consistent with previous research, greater salivation and higher ratings of urge to drink occurred in response to the alcohol cues. Differential salivary and urge responding to alcohol versus water cues did not vary as a function of abstinence duration. Of special interest was the finding that startle response magnitudes were relatively elevated to alcohol cues, but only in individuals early in abstinence. Affective ratings of alcohol cues suggested that alcohol cues were perceived as aversive. Methodological and theoretical implications of the findings are discussed.

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