Posttraumatic Stress and Alcohol Use Among Veterans: Amygdala and Anterior Cingulate Activation to Emotional Cues


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Abstract

This fMRI study tested a model of combat trauma, posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), alcohol use, and behavioral and neural responses to emotional cues in 100 OIF/OEF/OND veterans. Multilevel structural equation models were tested for left and right dorsal ACC (dACC), rostral ACC (rACC), and amygdala blood-oxygen- level dependent responses during the emotional counting Stroop test and masked faces task. In the Stroop task, combat exposure moderated the effect of combat stimuli resulting in hyperactivation in the rACC and dACC. Activation in the left amygdala also increased in response to combat stimuli, but effects did not vary as a function of combat severity. In the masked faces task, activation patterns did not vary as a function of stimulus. However, at the between-person level, amygdala activation during the masked faces task was inversely associated with PTSS. In respect to behavioral outcomes, higher PTSS were associated with a stronger Stroop effect, suggesting greater interference associated with combat words. Results are consistent with the premise that combat trauma results in hyperactivation in the ACC in response to combat stimuli, and, via its effect on PTSS, is associated with deficits in cognitive performance in the presence of combat stimuli. Across tasks, predeployment drinking was inversely associated with activation in the dACC but not the rACC or amygdala. Drinking may be a buffering factor, or negatively reinforcing in part because of its effects on normalizing brain response following trauma exposure. Alternatively, drinking may undermine adaptive functioning of the dACC when responding to traumatic stress cues.

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