Cognitive training in recently-abstinent individuals with alcohol use disorder improves emotional stroop performance: Evidence from a randomized pilot trial

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022 Feb 1:231:109239. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2021.109239. Epub 2021 Dec 24.


Background: Cognitive training interventions appear capable of improving alcohol-associated neurobehavioral deficits in recently detoxified individuals. However, efficacy remains incompletely characterized in alcohol use disorder (AUD) and available data address only non-affective cognitive outcomes; enhancement of social cognition remains uninvestigated. We utilized a training paradigm in which successfully ignoring emotionally-valent stimuli benefitted task performance. We hypothesized trained individuals would display improvements in an affective inhibitory control task, and that individuals trained with high valence (relative to neutral) stimuli would evince greater improvement.

Methods: 42 recently detoxified inpatients with AUD were assigned to one of three groups (Emotional Training, Neutral Training, or Treatment as Usual [TAU]). Training consisted of two computerized working memory tasks (dual-modality n-back task; attend/ignore task) which included task-irrelevant stimuli (emotional vs. neutral). Post-training performance efficiency (indexing speed-accuracy tradeoffs) in an emotional Stroop task was the outcome of interest.

Results: Significant group by time interactions were detected for emotional Stroop performance, supporting our hypothesis that trained groups would exhibit greater improvement than TAU controls (F[2,39]=8.61, p < .01). Additionally, the emotional training condition appeared to result in greater improvement relative to neutral training (F[1,26]=4.98, p < .01).

Conclusion: Results are consistent with current literature suggesting the potential of training to enhance cognitive recovery in early abstinence. Findings inform the development of training protocols, suggesting integration of task-irrelevant distractor stimuli in training may enhance cognitive control outcomes. Further, they expand the relevant domains for application of training approaches, providing novel evidence that among individuals with AUD, training-associated benefits may extend to social cognitive domains.

Keywords: Alcohol; Alcohol use disorder; Cognition; Cognitive training; Emotion processing; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism* / psychology
  • Alcoholism* / therapy
  • Cognition
  • Cognition Disorders*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects