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Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2013;13:379-402. doi: 10.1007/7854_2011_150.

Modeling relapse situations in the human laboratory.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 34 Park Street Room S110, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.


It is well known that alcoholism is a chronic relapsing illness. While stress significantly impacts alcoholism risk, there is also evidence that increasing levels of alcohol use affect peripheral and central stress and reward pathways thereby setting up a reciprocal relationship among the effects of alcohol consumption of the development, course of and recovery from alcoholism. This chapter reviews our efforts in assessing the integrity of stress pathways in alcoholism by examining whether altered responses of the stress pathways play a role in relapse risk. Using validated human laboratory procedures to model two of the most common situations that contribute to relapse risk, we review how such models in the laboratory can predict subsequent alcohol relapse. Empirical findings from human laboratory and brain imaging studies are reviewed to show that specific stress-related dysregulation accompanies the alcohol craving state in alcohol-dependent individuals, and such dysregulation along with increases in alcohol seeking are predictive of increased alcohol relapse risk. Finally, the significant implications of these findings for the development of novel treatment interventions that target stress processes and alcohol craving to improve alcoholism relapse outcomes are discussed.

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