DOI: 10.1111/add.16333 ISSN:

Craving modulates attentional bias towards alcohol in severe alcohol use disorder: An eye‐tracking study

Zoé Bollen, Arthur Pabst, Nicolas Masson, Reinout W. Wiers, Matt Field, Pierre Maurage
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


Background and aims

Competing models disagree on three theoretical questions regarding alcohol‐related attentional bias (AB), a key process in severe alcohol use disorder (SAUD): (1) is AB more of a trait (fixed, associated with alcohol use severity) or state (fluid, associated with momentary craving states) characteristic of SAUD; (2) does AB purely reflect the over‐activation of the reflexive/reward system or is it also influenced by the activity of the reflective/control system and (3) does AB rely upon early or later processing stages? We addressed these issues by investigating the time‐course of AB and its modulation by subjective craving and cognitive load in SAUD.


A free‐viewing eye‐tracking task, presenting pictures of alcoholic and non‐alcoholic beverages, combined with a concurrent cognitive task with three difficulty levels.


A laboratory setting in the detoxification units of three Belgian hospitals.


We included 30 patients with SAUD self‐reporting craving at testing time, 30 patients with SAUD reporting a total absence of craving and 30 controls matched on sex and age. All participants from SAUD groups met the DSM‐5 criteria for SAUD.


We assessed AB through early and late eye‐tracking indices. We evaluated the modulation of AB by craving (comparison between patients with/without craving) and cognitive load (variation of AB with the difficulty level of the concurrent task).


Dwell time measure indicated that SAUD patients with craving allocated more attention towards alcohol‐related stimuli than patients without craving (P < 0.001, d = 1.093), resulting in opposite approach/avoidance AB according to craving presence/absence. SAUD patients without craving showed a stronger avoidance AB than controls (P = 0.003, d = 0.806). AB did not vary according to cognitive load (P = 0.962, η2p = 0.004).


The direction of alcohol‐related attentional bias (approach/avoidance) appears to be determined by patients' subjective craving at testing time and does not function as a stable trait of severe alcohol use disorder. Alcohol‐related attentional bias appears to rely on later/controlled attentional stages but is not modulated by the saturation of the reflective/control system.

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