Effects of extinction context and retrieval cues on renewal of alcohol-cue reactivity among alcohol-dependent outpatients

Psychol Addict Behav. 2007 Jun;21(2):244-8. doi: 10.1037/0893-164X.21.2.244.


Pavlovian conditioning models have led to cue-exposure treatments for drug abuse. However, conditioned responding to drug stimuli can return (be renewed) following treatment. Animal research and a previous study of social drinkers indicated that extinction is highly context dependent but that renewal could be reduced by the inclusion of a cue from the extinction context. This study extends this research to a clinical sample. Alcohol-dependent outpatients (N = 143) completed an extinction trial to reduce craving and salivation responses to alcohol cues. They were then randomized to renewal tests in either the same context as extinction, a different context, the different context containing an extinction cue, or the different context with cue plus a manipulation to increase the salience of the cue. Contrary to predictions, the different context did not produce the expected renewal effect. Although the generalization of extinction effects beyond the cue-exposure context is a positive clinical finding, it is inconsistent with basic research findings on the context dependence of extinction. Possible explanations for this inconsistency are discussed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation
  • Arousal
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Cues*
  • Desensitization, Psychologic
  • Extinction, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Outpatients* / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Environment
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers