Substance use disorders have been frequently linked to an impaired cognitive control system. Whether this impaired control is also present in young adults who heavily drink alcohol is still subject to debate. The present study investigated possible impairments in cognitive control in heavy drinkers using behavioral and electrophysiological (EEG) measures. We studied behavioral performance on an inhibitory control and an error-processing task, using a GoNogo task and an Eriksen Flanker task respectively, while ERPs (Nogo-N2/P3 and ERN/Pe) were measured in a group of heavy alcohol drinkers (n = 48) and a healthy control group of light drinkers (n = 49). Results showed very few impairments in the heavy drinking group either at the behavioral or physiological level. One exception was the error-related Pe amplitude. This ERP component was reduced in heavy drinkers as compared to controls. Given that the Pe reflects a motivational component (i.e., the salience attributed to the making of errors) rather than a basic cognitive deficit, it can be concluded that heavy drinking in this population is not associated with major impaired cognitive control, but rather with impairments that are associated with aberrant attribution of salience to the making of errors. The present EEG findings are consistent with recent reviews and large scale epidemiological studies showing that heavy drinking, in contrast to substance use disorders, in young persons is not necessarily associated with major behavioral impairments in cognitive control.

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Keywords Alcohol, Drinking, Error processing, Event-related potentials, Inhibitory control, Performance monitoring
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Journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence
Franken, I.H.A, Luijten, M, van der Veen, F.M, & van Strien, J.W. (2017). Cognitive control in young heavy drinkers: An ERP study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 175, 77–83. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.01.036