Cue Reactivity Essentials: Event-Related Potentials During Identification of Visual Alcoholic Stimuli in Social Drinkers

Agnes M. Kroczek, Florian B. Haeussinger, Justin Hudak, Lucy D. Vanes, Andreas J. Fallgatter, Ann-Christine Ehlis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Cue reactivity is an automatic reaction to alcohol-related cues, contributing to the maintenance of drinking behavior and relapse in alcohol dependency. The identification of valid cue-reactivity features is a prerequisite for its clinical application. We were interested in the effects of visual features of alcohol cues (e.g., color) on cue reactivity. Assuming its development at a pre-pathological stage, we analyzed cue reactivity in heavy social drinkers, with light social drinkers as controls. We investigated whether cue reactivity was independent of visual features at an attentional (P100) and a motivational level (late positive potential, LPP).

Event-related potentials (ERPs; P100, LPP) were analyzed during a visual beverage classification task in heavy social drinkers and light social drinkers (N = 34 university students). Photographs of beverages were classified as alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Two additional stimulus sets depicted unrecognizable scrambled visual information and recognizable black silhouettes of the original beverages. Analysis of contrast waves inferred content (unrecognized scrambled trials subtracted from original) and color information (recognized shape trials subtracted from original) during visual processing. Linear regression was used to predict Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) scores from ERPs.

In heavy social drinkers, alcoholic-content LPP was increased and P100 latency was shorter compared with nonalcoholic cues. Linear regression for alcohol content condition in the overall sample revealed shorter P100 latency and increased LPP amplitude predicting AUDIT scores. None of those effects were significant in the visual-feature control condition.

Alcohol cue reactivity in heavy social drinkers was related to faster early attentional processes and motivational salience. The effect occurred independently of visual features in the pictures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-147
JournalJournal of studies on alcohol and drugs
Issue number1
Early online date13 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


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