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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Acute Stress and Event-Related Potential Correlates of Attention to Alcohol Images in Social Drinkers

The use of alcohol to cope with stress is a major health concern, yet the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the effects of stress on alcohol-related cognition are not well understood. This study examined changes in event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited by alcohol-related images before and after a stressor compared with a control condition.

Social drinkers (N = 75; 38 male) were assigned to one of two target subgroups for completion of an oddball task: (a) to detect alcohol targets while ignoring household object distracters and frequently presented nonsense shapes or (b) to detect object targets while ignoring alcohol distracters and nonsense shapes. ERPs were recorded before and after one of two conditions: a stressor or a nonstressful control task.

N200 latency and amplitude changes were modulated by stress. Similarly, stress reduced P300 latencies beyond practice effects. For P300 amplitude, the target subgroup interacted with the condition such that the standard "oddball" effect was observed in the control condition but was absent in the stress condition, suggesting that stress may have interfered with the participants' cognitive efficiency, or the ability to ignore task-irrelevant stimuli.

These findings suggest that stress influences the early stages of alcohol-related processing, an effect that may be particularly apparent in ERP latencies. These findings have implications for understanding the neural mechanisms involved with stress and alcohol cue reactivity.

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