- Neural correlates of alcohol-approach bias in alcohol addiction: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak for spirits
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- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Behavioral studies have shown an alcohol-approach bias in alcohol-dependent patients: the automatic tendency to faster approach than avoid alcohol compared with neutral cues, which has been associated with craving and relapse. Although this is a well-studied psychological phenomenon, little is known about the brain processes underlying automatic action tendencies in addiction. We examined 20 alcohol-dependent patients and 17 healthy controls with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), while performing an implicit approach-avoidance task. Participants pushed and pulled pictorial cues of alcohol and soft-drink beverages, according to a content-irrelevant feature of the cue (landscape/portrait). The critical fMRI contrast regarding the alcohol-approach bias was defined as (approach alcohol>avoid alcohol)>(approach soft drink>avoid soft drink). This was reversed for the avoid-alcohol contrast: (avoid alcohol>approach alcohol)>(avoid soft drink>approach soft drink). In comparison with healthy controls, alcohol-dependent patients had stronger behavioral approach tendencies for alcohol cues than for soft-drink cues. In the approach, alcohol fMRI contrast patients showed larger blood-oxygen-level-dependent responses in the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex, regions involved in reward and motivational processing. In alcohol-dependent patients, alcohol-craving scores were positively correlated with activity in the amygdala for the approach-alcohol contrast. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was not activated in the avoid-alcohol contrast in patients vs controls. Our data suggest that brain regions that have a key role in reward and motivation are associated with the automatic alcohol-approach bias in alcohol-dependent patients.
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