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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2003 Aug;27(8):1251-6.

Using the cue-availability paradigm to assess cue reactivity.

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Department of Psychiatry, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA.



A recent meta-analysis on cue-reactivity research revealed that cue-specific craving for alcohol is substantially less robust than craving measured for other drugs of abuse. The small effect sizes for alcohol underscore the need for more powerful methods of assessing cue reactivity in humans. The cue-availability paradigm is a modification of the conventional cue-reactivity paradigm and is intended to increase the sensitivity of measuring cue-reactivity to alcohol in humans.


Seventeen non-treatment-seeking alcoholics were tested individually on two different sessions (after priming with alcohol and after priming with placebo-alcohol). Subjects were presented with a total of 32 cue-availability trials. On each trial, subjects were presented with either a target cue (alcohol) or a neutral cue (water). Each cue was available for drinking on 50% of the trials (availability condition). Cue-reactivity measures were self-reports of craving and mood.


The alcohol prime had a robust effect on craving. Irrespective of the availability of the cue for consumption or the type of cue, craving was consistently higher when subjects were primed with alcohol than with placebo-alcohol. Negative mood was also higher when it was assessed after the alcohol prime. Negative mood decreased in alcohol-primed subjects when the alcohol cue was available for consumption. The alcohol cue also had a significant, although more modest effect on craving. The alcohol cue consistently elicited higher levels of craving relative to the water cue.


These data suggest that the priming effects of alcohol may be a significant factor contributing to the experience of craving and maintenance of drinking. The study also introduces the cue-availability as an additional new method for investigating manipulations of cue-reactivity in alcoholics.

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