Heavy drinking and the role of inhibitory control of attention

Walter Roberts, Melissa A. Miller, Jessica Weafer, Mark T. Fillmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Alcohol can disrupt goal-directed behavior by impairing the ability to inhibit attentional shifts toward salient but goal-irrelevant stimuli. Individuals who are highly sensitive to this effect of the drug may be at increased risk for problematic drinking, especially among those whose attention is drawn to alcohol-related cues in the environment (i.e., attentional bias). The current study examined the acute impairing effect of alcohol on inhibitory mechanisms of attentional control in a group of healthy social drinkers. We then examined whether increased sensitivity to this disinhibiting effect of alcohol was associated with heavy drinking, especially among those who have an attentional bias toward alcohol-related stimuli. Eighty nondependent social drinkers performed a delayed ocular response task that measured their inhibitory control of attention by their ability to suppress attentional shifts to irrelevant stimuli. Attentional bias was measured using a visual probe task. Inhibitory control was assessed following a moderate dose of alcohol (0.64 g/kg) and a placebo. Participants made more inhibitory failures (i.e., premature saccades) following 0.64 g/kg alcohol compared with placebo and the relation of this effect to their drinking habits did depend on the level of the drinker's attentional bias to alcohol-related stimuli. Among drinkers with higher attentional bias, greater impairment of inhibitory control was associated with heavier drinking. In contrast, drinkers with little or no attentional bias showed no relation between their sensitivity to the disinhibiting effects of alcohol and drinking habits. These findings have implications for understanding how heightened incentive-salience of alcohol cues and impaired attentional control can interactively contribute to excessive alcohol use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-140
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Abuse potential
  • Alcohol effects
  • Attentional bias
  • Delayed ocular response task
  • Inhibitory control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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