Brain Correlates of Alcohol and Non-Alcohol-Related Interference in Adults with Alcohol Use Disorder

Laura Murray, PhD

McLean Hospital – Faculty

Scientific Abstract

Background: Individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD) have difficulty diverting attention away from alcohol-related stimuli and towards non-alcohol-related goals (i.e., alcohol-related attention interference). However, it is unclear whether brain function in cognitive and emotional regulatory regions differs during alcohol and non-alcohol-related attention interference, and whether such brain function relates to AUD severity. The current study fills this gap by comparing brain reactivity to alcohol and non-alcohol-related interference in individuals with AUD.

Methods: 46 participants with AUD completed alcohol and classic color-word Stroop tasks during fMRI. Brain activity was compared during alcohol Stroop interference (alcohol > neutral) and classic Stroop interference (incongruent > congruent) in the rostral and dorsal anterior cingulate cortices (rACC and dACC) and correlated with self-reported AUD severity. 

Results: Participants responded more slowly to alcohol compared to neutral trials, and incongruent compared to congruent trials. rACC activity was significantly higher for the alcohol Stroop (i.e., alcohol > neutral contrast) compared to the classic Stroop (incongruent > congruent contrast). dACC activity did not differ on average between the Stroop tasks, but dACC activity during the classic Stroop was positively associated with AUD severity. 

Conclusions: Activity in cingulate subregions differed when responding to alcohol and non-alcohol stimuli in individuals with AUD. Increased activity in the rACC, a region linked to emotional conflict resolution, to alcohol cues may interfere with non-alcohol-related goal-directed behavior. AUD severity was linked to greater dACC reactivity during the classic Stroop suggesting that general cognitive control impairments may be more pronounced in those with more problematic alcohol use.

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research Areas


Laura Murray, PhD, Julia C. Welsh, Chase G Johnson, MA, Roselinde H. Kaiser, PhD, Todd J. Farchione, PhD, Amy C. Janes, PhD

Principal Investigator

Amy C. Janes, PhD