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Can't stop the craving: The effect of impulsivity on cue-elicited craving for alcohol in heavy and light social drinkers

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RATIONALE: A robust finding in the alcohol literature is that heavy and alcohol-dependent drinkers show stronger reactions to alcohol-related cues than light drinkers. However, there are individual differences in the degree of cue-elicited craving. Personality factors appear to be involved in cue reactivity and impulsivity is a possible candidate. OBJECTIVES: The aim of the present study was to examine the role of different aspects of impulsivity in heavy drinking and alcohol cue reactivity in social drinkers. METHODS: Participants were heavy (n = 13) and light (n = 29) social drinkers who were exposed to neutral and alcohol-related stimuli during a single laboratory session. Trait impulsivity, response inhibition, and sensitivity to reward were assessed with the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11), the Stop Signal Task, and the Card-Arranging Reward Responsivity Objective Test, respectively. RESULTS: Heavy drinkers scored higher on trait impulsivity (BIS-11) than light drinkers. In addition, heavy drinkers reported elevated levels of craving for alcohol, but both in light and heavy drinkers, craving increased equally after exposure to alcohol cues. Impulsivity appeared to moderate this relation: heavy drinkers with ineffective response inhibition showed more craving to alcohol cues, compared to heavy drinkers with adequate response inhibition. In light drinkers, response inhibition did not influence craving to alcohol cues. CONCLUSIONS: Different aspects of impulsivity are involved in heavy drinking and perhaps motivate alcohol consumption in a variety of ways. Having a deficient response inhibition appears to be a risk factor for heavy drinkers because it is associated with increased craving to alcohol cues.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-518
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012