Cardiac vagal dysfunction moderates patterns of craving across the day in moderate to heavy consumers of alcohol

PLoS One. 2018 Jul 17;13(7):e0200424. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200424. eCollection 2018.


Background: Alcohol craving, a known correlate of vulnerability to Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), has been found to be inversely related to cardiac vagal tone (CVT). Here we examine how resting CVT, CVT reactivity to a postural challenge, and their interaction influence craving during imposed alcohol abstinence and their usual drinking among moderate to heavy drinkers.

Methods: Participants were recruited from the local community (final n = 29) and assessed for CVT functioning via respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) at rest (RSA-rest) and during a postural challenge (RSA-react). Craving intensity was assessed throughout the day during 3-day periods of imposed alcohol abstinence (abstained days) and drinking as usual (normal days) via Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA). Multilevel statistical modeling assessed relationships between patterns of CVT and diurnal craving. The primary hypothesis of interest was that the interaction of RSA-rest with RSA-react would be significantly associated with increased craving across the day.

Results: Overall, craving increased throughout the day and significantly decreased after drinking (p < 0.001). There was a significant interaction between RSA-rest and RSA-react with plots revealing that this effect was driven by an aberrant craving pattern among participants with higher RSA-rest and a sluggish vagal brake in response to a postural shift-atypical RSA-react.

Conclusion: Although additional research is needed to corroborate these findings, our results suggest that moderate-heavy drinkers characterized by higher RSA-rest and atypical RSA-react exhibit aberrant patterns of craving across the day that may represent a risk factor for AUD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Abstinence
  • Alcohol Drinking / physiopathology*
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Arrhythmia, Sinus / physiopathology*
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photoperiod
  • Posture
  • Rest
  • Time Factors
  • Vagus Nerve / physiopathology
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.3p30f31