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Alcohol cue reactivity in the brain

Research group Willuhn
Publication year 2023
Published in Journal of Neuroscience Research
Authors Lauren Kuhns, Gabry Mies, Emese Kroon, Ingo Willuhn, Heidi Lesscher, Janna Cousijn

Social attunement (SA)-the tendency to harmonize behavior with the social environment-has been proposed to drive the escalation of alcohol use in adolescence, while reducing use in adulthood. Little is known about how heightened social sensitivity in adolescence may interact with neural alcohol cue reactivity-a marker of alcohol use disorder-and its relationship to alcohol use severity over time. The aims of this study were to test whether (1) adolescents and adults differ in social alcohol cue reactivity in the nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate cortex, and right medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and (2) age moderates the relationship between social alcohol cue reactivity and social attunement, measures of drinking at baseline, and changes in drinking over time. A sample of male adolescents (16-18 years) and adults (29-35 years) completed an fMRI social alcohol cue-exposure task at baseline and an online follow-up two to three years later. No main effects of age or drinking measures were observed in social alcohol cue reactivity. However, age significantly moderated associations of social alcohol cue reactivity in the mPFC and additional regions from exploratory whole-brain analyses with SA, with a positive association in adolescents and negative association in adults. Significant age interactions emerged only for SA in predicting drinking over time. Adolescents with higher SA scores escalated drinking, while adults with higher SA scores reduced drinking. These findings warrant further research on SA as a risk and protective factor and suggest that social processes influence cue reactivity differentially in male adolescents and adults.

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