Interactive Effects of Naturalistic Drinking Context and Alcohol Sensitivity on Neural Alcohol Cue-Reactivity Responses


Considerable evidence indicates that a low level of subjective response to alcohol’s acute effects (i.e., low sensitivity) is associated with enhanced risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Recent work suggests that the highest risk response profile consists of blunted sensitivity to alcohol’s sedation-like effects, coupled with enhanced sensitivity to alcohol’s stimulation-like effects (i.e., differen- tial sensitivity). A largely separate body of work indicates that enhanced reactivity to alcohol-related cues is associated with increased AUD risk. The current research examined the extent to which variability in alcohol response phenotypes is associated with enhanced P3 event-related potential (ERP) responses to alcohol-related pictures (ACR-P3), and whether this reactivity varies according to depicted drinking contexts. Eighty young adults (aged 18 to 33 years) completed a self-report measure of alcohol sensitivity (the Alcohol Sensitivity Questionnaire) and viewed images depicting drinking in naturalistic contexts, alcohol and nonalcohol beverages in isolation (devoid of naturalistic drinking context), and neutral nonbeverage control images while ERPs were recorded. Results indicated that blunted sensitivity to alcohol’s sedative-like effects was differentially associated with enhanced ACR-P3 but reduced P3 reactivity to nonalcohol cues. Variation in sensitivity to alcohol’s stimulant-like effects was not associated with differential ACR-P3. Contrary to predictions, these effects were not potentiated by drinking contexts. The current results replicate and extend previous work linking low alcohol sensitivity with enhanced incentive salience for alcohol-related cues and suggest that cues depicting drinking contexts are less likely to differentiate high-risk from low-risk drinkers.

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 43, 1777-1789
Jorge S. Martins
Jorge S. Martins
Postdoctoral Researcher