Multi-modal neuroimaging reveals differences in alcohol-cue reactivity but not neurometabolite concentrations in adolescents who drink alcohol

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2024 Apr 1:257:111254. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2024.111254. Epub 2024 Mar 2.


Background: The objective of this multi-modal neuroimaging study was to identify neuroscience-informed treatment targets for adolescent alcohol use disorder (AUD) by examining potential neural alterations associated with adolescent alcohol use.

Methods: Adolescents (ages 17-19) who heavily used (n=49) or did not use alcohol (n=22) were recruited for a multi-modal neuroimaging protocol, including proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy within the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and an fMRI alcohol cue-reactivity task. The alcohol cue-reactivity task was analyzed across 11 a priori regions-of-interest (ROI), including the dACC, and in an exploratory whole-brain approach. Correlations were run between neurometabolite levels and alcohol cue-reactivity in the dACC.

Results: There were no significant group differences in absolute neurometabolite concentrations. Compared to the control group, the alcohol-using group exhibited heightened alcohol cue reactivity in the left amygdala ROI (p=0.04). The whole-brain approach identified higher alcohol cue reactivity in the alcohol-using group compared to controls in the amygdala and occipital regions, and lower reactivity in the parietal lobe. Whole-brain sex effects were noted, with females displaying higher reactivity regardless of group. No significant correlations were found between neurometabolite levels and alcohol cue-reactivity in the dACC.

Conclusions: The null neurometabolic findings may be due to age, relatively low severity of alcohol use, and non-treatment-seeking status of the participants. Females showed overall higher reactivity to alcohol cues, indicating a sex effect regardless of alcohol use history. Higher amygdala reactivity in alcohol-using adolescents suggests that emotional processing related to alcohol cues may be a useful target for future adolescent AUD interventions.

Keywords: Adolescents; Alcohol; Alcohol cue-reactivity; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Magnetic resonance imaging; Magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcoholism* / diagnostic imaging
  • Alcoholism* / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cues*
  • Ethanol
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Neuroimaging


  • Ethanol