Does Alcohol Addiction Create an Attentional Bias?

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

Related articles:
Identifying and Treating Addiction and Substance Abuse Problems
Do I Really Have a Drinking Problem?
What Is Recovery?

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  • susan


    July 30th, 2012 at 11:35 PM

    any and all addiction can cause a sense of its-not-that-bad in a person becaue his mind and body craves for the substance and the person is not able to make good deciions.Alcohol is no different and no matter how hard alchol-dependents try,they will always show some kind of bias towards alcohol and its related cues and what not.

  • Nolan


    July 31st, 2012 at 6:57 PM

    Alcohol addiction can be harmful to crazy amounts.And I’m alcohol dependent people are only shutting their eyes with such impulsive behavior when it comes to consumption of alcohol.

  • Jason Frost

    Jason Frost

    August 1st, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    Alcohol addiction destroys a person and their family members. I can’t count the number of people that I have seen that have clear problems with Alcohol and just can’t understand the damage that it is doing to their own bodies and to the mental state of those around them.

    Alcohol consumption over time can lead to alcohol poisioning and that leads to another issue. Please just say your prayers for all those that are sufferring.

  • becks


    August 5th, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    I know this is a little off topic but I have this same kind of problem with food.

    I freely admit that I am a food addict and that I have a real problem saying no to eating, even when my mind is blatantly screaming no! Don’t eat that! But after just a little bit I find myself hunkering down and giving in. It is not like there is one specific stimuli but for me once I have that little fleeting thought, it always turns into something that is so much bigger than I can control.

  • Cassie


    December 15th, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    Question: were those with an alcohol dependence sober at the time? Were they suffering from any withdrawal symptoms? Did Fridrici retest the subjects under differing levels of intoxication? This surely would have been a fascinating study

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