Craving and substance use among patients with alcohol, tobacco, cannabis or heroin addiction: a comparison of substance- and person-specific cues

Addiction. 2015 Jun;110(6):1035-42. doi: 10.1111/add.12882. Epub 2015 Apr 21.


Background and aims: It is well established that craving increases following exposure to substance-related 'cues', but the role of life-styles or substance use habits that are unique to each person remains poorly understood. This study examines the association of substance-specific and personal cues with craving and substance use in daily life.

Design: Ecological momentary assessment was used during a 2-week period.

Setting: Data were collected in a French out-patient addiction treatment centre.

Participants: A total of 132 out-patients beginning treatment for alcohol, tobacco, cannabis or opiate addiction were included.

Measurements: Using mobile technologies, participants were questioned four times per day relative to craving, substance use and exposure to either substance-specific cues (e.g. seeing a syringe) or personal cues unique to that individual (e.g. seeing the specific person with whom the substance is used).

Findings: Craving intensity was associated with the number of concurrently assessed substance-specific cues (t = 4.418, P < 0.001) and person-specific cues (t = 4.006, P < 0.001) when analysed jointly within the same model. However, only person-specific cues were associated with increases in craving over subsequent hours of the day (t = 2.598, P < 0.05). Craving intensity, in turn, predicted increases in later substance use (t = 4.076, P < 0.001). Causal mediation analyses demonstrated that the association of cues with later substance use was mediated by craving intensity (mediated effect = 0.007, 95% confidence interval = 0.004-0.011).

Conclusions: Unique person-specific cues appear to have a robust effect on craving addictive substances, and the duration of this association may persist longer than for more general substance-specific cues. Mobile technologies provide new opportunities for understanding these person-specific risk factors and for providing individually tailored interventions.

Keywords: Addiction; craving; cues; ecological momentary assessment; experience sampling method; relapse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Craving*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Heroin Dependence / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology
  • Young Adult