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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019 Feb;43(2):367-377. doi: 10.1111/acer.13941. Epub 2019 Jan 20.

Elucidating the Effect of a Brief Drinking Intervention Using Neuroimaging: A Preliminary Study.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.



Brief interventions have empirical support for acutely reducing alcohol use among non-treatment-seeking heavy drinkers. Neuroimaging techniques allow for the examination of the neurobiological effect of behavioral interventions, probing brain systems putatively involved in clinical response to treatment. Few studies have prospectively evaluated whether psychosocial interventions attenuate neural cue reactivity that in turn reduces drinking in the same population. This study aimed to examine the effect of a brief intervention on drinking outcomes, neural alcohol cue reactivity, and the ability of neural alcohol cue reactivity to prospectively predict drinking outcomes.


Non-treatment-seeking heavy drinking participants were randomized to receive a brief interview intervention (n = 22) or an attention-matched control (n = 24). Immediately following the intervention or control, participants underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan comprised of the alcohol taste cues paradigm. Four weeks after the intervention (or control), participants completed a follow-up visit to report on their past-month drinking. Baseline and follow-up percent heavy drinking days (PHDD) were calculated for each participant.


There was no significant effect of the brief intervention on PHDD at follow-up or on modulating neural activation to alcohol relative to water taste cues. There was a significant association between neural response to alcohol taste cues and PHDD across groups (Z > 2.3, p < 0.05), such that individuals who had greater neural reactivity to alcohol taste cues in the precuneus and prefrontal cortex (PFC) had fewer PHDD at follow-up.


This study did not find an effect of the brief intervention on alcohol use in this sample, and the intervention was not associated with differential neural alcohol cue reactivity. Nevertheless, greater activation of the precuneus and PFC during alcohol cue exposure predicted less alcohol use prospectively suggesting that these neural substrates subserve the effects of alcohol cues on drinking behavior.


Alcohol; Brief Intervention; Mechanisms of Behavior Change; Precuneus; fMRI

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