Alcohol Use Disorder Interventions Targeting Brain Sites for Both Conditioned Reward and Delayed Gratification

Neurotherapeutics. 2020 Jan;17(1):70-86. doi: 10.1007/s13311-019-00817-1.


Alcohol use disorder is a destructive compulsion characterized by chronic relapse and poor recovery outcomes. Heightened reactivity to alcohol-associated stimuli and compromised executive function are hallmarks of alcohol use disorder. Interventions targeting these two interacting domains are thought to ameliorate these altered states, but the mutual brain sites of action are yet unknown. Although interventions on alcohol cue reactivity affect reward area responses, how treatments alter brain responses when subjects exert executive effort to delay gratification is not as well-characterized. Focusing on interventions that could be developed into effective clinical treatments, we review and identify brain sites of action for these two categories of potential therapies. Using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis, we find that interventions on alcohol cue reactivity localize to ventral prefrontal cortex, dorsal anterior cingulate, and temporal, striatal, and thalamic regions. Interventions for increasing delayed reward preference elicit changes mostly in midline default mode network regions, including posterior cingulate, precuneus, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex-in addition to temporal and parietal regions. Anatomical co-localization of effects appears in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, whereas effects specific to delay-of-gratification appear in the posterior cingulate and precuneus. Thus, the current available literature suggests that interventions in the domains of cue reactivity and delay discounting alter brain activity along midline default mode regions, specifically in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex for both domains, and the posterior cingulate/precuneus for delay-of-gratification. We believe that these findings could facilitate targeting and development of new interventions, and ultimately treatments of this challenging disorder.

Keywords: Meta analysis; addiction; alcoholism; cues; ethanol; impulsivity; intertemporal choice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / physiopathology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Delay Discounting / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reward*