A high working memory load prior to memory retrieval reduces craving in non-treatment seeking problem drinkers

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2018 Mar;235(3):695-708. doi: 10.1007/s00213-017-4785-4. Epub 2017 Nov 27.


Background: Reconsolidation-based interventions have been suggested to be a promising treatment strategy for substance use disorders. In this study, we aimed to investigate the effectiveness of a working memory intervention to interfere with the reconsolidation of alcohol-related memories in a sample of non-treatment seeking heavy drinkers.

Methods: Participants were randomized to one of the two conditions that underwent a 3-day intervention: in the experimental condition, a 30-min working memory training was performed immediately after a 15-min memory retrieval session (i.e., within the memory reconsolidation time-window), whereas in the control condition, the working memory training was performed prior to a memory retrieval session.

Results: In contrast to our original hypothesis, a high working memory load after memory retrieval did not interfere with the reconsolidation of those memories while a high working memory load prior to memory retrieval (the original control condition) strongly reduced retrieval-induced craving and craving for alcohol at follow-up.

Conclusion: Whereas the neurocognitive mechanism behind this effect needs to be further investigated, the current findings suggest that, if replicated, working memory training prior to addiction-related memory retrieval has the potential to become an effective (adjunctive) intervention in the treatment of substance use disorders.

Keywords: Alcohol; Craving; Memory reconsolidation; Skin conductance; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / diagnosis
  • Behavior, Addictive / prevention & control
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Young Adult