Individuals who have an addiction to alcohol often report that they drink despite their own desire not to. People who are alcohol dependent tend to describe their drinking behavior as a compulsion beyond their control. These behavior patterns have been explored in numerous studies and have been shown to be influenced by impulsivity and cognitive processes. Some research even suggests that individuals with alcohol dependency have an attentional bias toward alcohol-related cues, which increase alcohol cravings. Christina Fridrici of the Research Department of the Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Hospital Bielefeld in Germany sought to explore this idea further in a recent study.
For her study, Fridrici enrolled 39 alcohol-dependent participants and 33 control participants with no history of alcohol dependence. She presented the participants with a series of cues that included alcohol-related words, non–alcohol related words, and individual specific words that were relative to participants’ personal experiences with alcohol. She measured the cravings and reactions of the participants as they were exposed to the cues and found that contrary to some evidence, the alcohol-dependent participants did not exhibit an attentional bias to alcohol-related words. However, Fridrici did discover that the alcohol-dependent individuals took longer to respond to alcohol-related cues than did the control participants.
This response was only exhibited in the alcohol-related cues and not in the neutral or non–alcohol related cues. Fridrici believes that these results reveal a deficit in inhibition rather than an increase in bias in those with alcohol dependency. Another interesting finding was that the control participants demonstrated a higher rate of response disruption for alcohol-related cues than the alcohol-dependent participants did. This could be due to the fact that alcohol-dependent individuals have developed a response to alcohol-related cues that is habitual and immune to disruption, while non–alcohol dependent individuals have not. Therefore, the presence of alcohol-related stimuli causes interference in their normal response patterns. Regardless, the findings from this study open avenues of further research. “Moreover, differences with regard to drinking-related variables (e.g., craving, abstinence, self-efficacy etc.) need to be considered not only in models of drinking maintenance, but also in attentional bias research and therapy,” said Fridrici.
Fridrici, C., Leichsenring-Driessen, C., Driessen, M., Wingenfeld, K., Kremer, G., Beblo, T. (2012). The individualized alcohol Stroop task: No attentional bias toward personalized stimuli in alcohol-dependents. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029139
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