The present study investigated the nature of physiological cue reactivity and craving in response to alcohol cues among alcohol-dependent patients (N = 80) who were enrolled in detoxification treatment. Further, the predictive value with regard to future drinking of both the magnitude of the physiological and craving response to alcohol cues while in treatment and the degree of alcohol-cue exposure in patients' natural environment was assessed. Physiological reactivity and craving in response to experimental exposure to alcohol and soft drink advertisements were measured during detoxification treatment using heart rate variability and subjective rating of craving. Following discharge, patients monitored exposure to alcohol advertisements for five consecutive weeks with a diary and were followed up with an assessment of relapse at 5 weeks and 3 months post-discharge. The results indicated that the presence of alcohol cues such as the portrayal of the drug and drinking behaviour induced physiological cue reactivity and craving. Additionally, cue reactivity and craving were positively correlated, and cue reactivity was larger for patients with shorter histories of alcohol dependence. Further, patients reported a substantial daily exposure to alcohol cues. The magnitude of cue reactivity and the craving response to alcohol cues at baseline and degree of exposure to alcohol cues in patients' natural environment did not predict relapse. It is concluded that the presence of alcohol cues such as portrayal of alcoholic beverages and drinking behaviour induces cue reactivity and craving in alcohol dependence through a conditioned appetitive response.
- Cue reactivity