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Addiction. 2000 Aug;95 Suppl 2:S229-36.

Toward bridging the gap between biological, psychobiological and psychosocial models of alcohol craving.

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Providence VA Medical Center/Brown University, USA.


Urge to drink ("craving") has been a central focus of many theories and treatments, but some researchers question the importance of urges during recovery. Several studies assessed reactions to the presence of beverage alcohol (cue-reactivity) or to simulated high-risk situations (role plays). Higher urges in response to role plays predicted more drinking during the 6 months after treatment. However, urges in response to beverage cues were inconsistently predictive of outcome while measures of awareness or attention to cues predicted less drinking. Urge to drink might reflect a conflict between motivation to drink and awareness of danger. Whether urges predict increased risk of drinking should be a function of factors that affect motivation to drink, awareness of risk and effectiveness of coping. Cue-reactivity assessment has recently been used to bridge the gap between psychosocial and biomedical approaches in several ways: (1) salivation to cues predicts increased drinking independent of urge or attention, showing the value of including both physiological and psychosocial measures; (2) naltrexone has been shown to decrease cue-elicited urge to drink, illustrating the value of this assessment methodology for medications evaluation and (3) pre-pulse inhibition of startle response is being used to investigate the role of dopaminergic pathways in cue-elicited urge. Thus, this laboratory based program of research has the potential to add to knowledge of both biomedical and psychosocial mechanisms involved in urge and relapse, leading to greater integration of models.

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