Background: Addiction research has hypothesised that automatic and reflective cognitive processes play an important role in the onset and maintenance of alcohol (ab)use, wherein automatic reactions to drug-related cues steer the drug user towards consuming before reflective processes can get over and steer towards a different behavioural response. These automatic processes include the tendency to attend and approach alcohol cues. These biases may be trained away from alcohol via computerised cognitive bias modification (CBM). The present protocol describes the design of a double-blind randomised controlled trial (RCT) testing the effectiveness of attentional bias and approach bias re-training with a 2×2 factorial design, alongside a brief motivational support (MS) program. Methods/Design: Participants (n = 120) are adult alcohol dependent outpatients, recruited from a public health service for addiction in Italy, who have been abstinent for at least two months, and with a main diagnosis of alcohol dependence disorder. Participants are randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions and complete 11 sessions of training after a baseline assessment. The MS takes place before each training session. Post-intervention and three-month follow-up assessments examine the change in clinical outcome variables and attentional and approach biases (measured with the Visual Probe Task and the Approach-Avoidance Task, respectively). Alcohol approach-avoidance implicit memory associations (measured with the Brief Implicit Association Test) are also evaluated at pre- and post-intervention to explore generalisation effects. Primary outcome measure is relapse rate at follow-up. Secondary outcome measures include change in cognitive biases, in alcohol-related implicit memory associations, and in the clinical variables assessed. An exploratory analysis is also planned to detect interaction effects between the CBM modules and possible moderators (interference control capacity, gender, age, number of previous detoxifications) and mediators (change in cognitive bias) of the primary outcome measure. Discussion: This RCT is the first to test the effectiveness of a combined CBM intervention alongside motivational support in alcohol-dependent outpatients. The results of this study can be extremely valuable for future research in the optimisation of CBM treatment for alcohol addiction. Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN01005959 (registration date: 24 October 2013)

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Department of Psychology

Boffo, M., Pronk, T., Wiers, R., & Mannarini, S. (2015). Combining Cognitive Bias Modification training with Motivational Support in alcohol dependent outpatients: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 16. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0576-6