The tendency to approach alcohol-related stimuli is known as the alcohol-approach bias and has been related to heavy alcohol use. It is currently unknown whether the alcohol-approach bias is more pronounced after emotional priming. The main aim of this study was to investigate whether positive and negative emotional primes would modulate the alcohol-approach bias. For this purpose, a new contextual emotional prime-approach avoidance task was developed, containing both negative and positive emotional primes. Explicit coping drinking motives were expected to be related to an increased alcohol-approach bias after negative primes. Results of 65 heavy and 50 occasional drinkers showed that the alcohol-approach bias was increased in both groups during negative emotional priming. This appeared to be due to slower alcohol avoidance rather than faster alcohol approach. This change in alcohol-approach bias was positively related to explicit enhancement drinking motives and negatively related to alcohol use-related problems. A stronger alcohol-approach bias in heavy compared to occasional drinkers could not be replicated here, and coping drinking motives were not related to the alcohol-approach bias in any of the emotional contexts. The current findings suggest that both occasional and heavy drinkers have a selective difficulty to avoid alcohol-related cues in a negative emotional context. Negative reinforcement may therefore be involved in different types of drinking patterns. The influence of emotional primes on alcohol-related action tendencies may become smaller when alcohol use becomes more problematic, which is in line with habit accounts of addiction.

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Frontiers in Psychiatry
Department of Psychology

Cousijn, J., Luijten, M., & Wiers, R. (2014). Mechanisms underlying alcohol-approach action tendencies: The role of emotional primes and drinking motives. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5(MAY). doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00044