Time Course of Attentional Bias to Drug Cues in Opioid Dependence

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Prior research indicates attentional bias to drug cues in opioid dependence. As this bias may be a marker of vulnerability to relapse following treatment, it is useful to clarify its underlying processes. The present study examined whether the opioid-related bias operates in early attention processes such as initial orienting, or in maintained attention, or both. Evidence from prior research is limited and mixed. The time course of attentional bias for drug cues was assessed using a dot-probe task with pictorial drug cues presented at 3 stimulus exposure durations: 200, 500 and 1,500 ms. There were 2 groups: opioid-dependent (n = 19) and healthy controls (n = 20). Individuals in the opioid-dependent group were recruited from community drug and alcohol treatment services; 95% were taking methadone. Compared with the control group, the opioid-dependent group showed a significant attentional bias for opioid-related information presented at 200 ms (p = .006). There was a similar trend at 500 ms which was nonsignificant (p = .057), and no bias at 1,500 ms (p = .698). The findings indicate an attentional bias to drug cues in opioid dependence, which operates in initial orienting processes, but not maintained attention. Further research should examine whether modification of this bias by treatment reduces risk of relapse.

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