Rationale: Previous work has indicated that implicit attentional biases to alcohol-related cues are indicative of susceptibility to alcohol dependence and escape drinking, or drinking to avoid dysphoric mood or emotions. Objective: The goal of the current study was to examine whether alcohol dependence and escape drinking were associated with early neural attentional biases to alcohol cues. Methods: Electroencephalography data were recorded from 54 college students who reported that they regularly drank alcohol, while they viewed alcohol and control pictures that contained human content (active) or no human content (inactive). Results: Those who were alcohol dependent showed more neural attentional bias to the active alcohol-related stimuli than to the matched control stimuli early in processing, as indicated by N1 amplitude. Escape drinkers showed greater neural attention to the active alcohol cues than non-escape drinkers, as measured by larger N2 amplitudes. Conclusions: While alcohol dependence is associated with enhanced automatic attentional biases early in processing, escape drinking is associated with more controlled attentional biases to active alcohol cues during a relatively later stage in processing. These findings reveal important information about the time-course of attentional processing in problem drinkers and have important implications for addiction models and treatment.
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