Background: Increased alcohol cue-reactivity and altered inhibitory processing have been reported in heavy social drinkers and alcohol-dependent patients, and are associated with relapse. In social drinkers, these two processes have been usually studied separately by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) during rapid picture presentation. The aim of our study was to confront social drinkers to a task triggering high alcohol cue-reactivity, to verify whether it specifically altered inhibitory performance, by using long-lasting background picture presentation.
Methods: ERP were recorded during visual Go/No-Go tasks performed by social drinkers, in which a frequent Go signal (letter "M"), and a rare No-Go signal (letter "W") were superimposed on three different types of background pictures: neutral (black background), alcohol-related and non alcohol-related.
Results: Our data suggested that heavy social drinkers made more commission errors than light drinkers, but only in the alcohol-related context. Neurophysiologically, this was reflected by a delayed No-Go P3 component.
Conclusions: Elevated alcohol cue-reactivity may lead to poorer inhibitory performance in heavy social drinkers, and may be considered as an important vulnerability factor in developing alcohol misuse. Prevention programs should be designed to decrease the high arousal of alcohol stimuli and strengthen cognitive control in young, at-risk individuals.