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Cue-elicited heart rate variability and attentional bias predict alcohol relapse following treatment


RATIONALE & OBJECTIVES: Identification of malleable neurocognitive predictors of relapse among alcohol-dependent individuals is important for the optimization of health care delivery and clinical services. Given that alcohol cue-reactivity can predict relapse, we evaluated cue-elicited high-frequency heart rate variability (HFHRV) and alcohol attentional bias (AB) as potential relapse risk indices.

METHOD: Alcohol-dependent patients in long-term residential treatment who had participated in mindfulness-oriented therapy or an addiction support group completed a spatial cueing task as a measure of alcohol AB and an affect-modulated alcohol cue-reactivity protocol while HFHRV was assessed.

RESULTS & CONCLUSIONS: Post-treatment HFHRV cue-reactivity and alcohol AB significantly predicted the occurrence and timing of relapse by 6-month follow-up, independent of treatment condition and after controlling for alcohol dependence severity. Alcohol-dependent patients who relapsed exhibited a significantly greater HFHRV reactivity to stress-primed alcohol cues than patients who did not relapse. Cue-elicited HFHRV and alcohol AB can presage relapse and may therefore hold promise as prognostic indicators in clinical settings.


Garland, E.L., Franken, I.H.A. & Howard, M.O. Psychopharmacology (2012) 222: 17.

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Last Updated: 12/12/23