Alcohol-Related Interpretation Bias in Alcohol-Dependent Patients




Models of addictive behaviors postulate that implicit alcohol-related memory associations and biased interpretation processes contribute to the development and maintenance of alcohol misuse and abuse. The present study examined whether alcohol-dependent patients (AP) show an alcohol-related interpretation bias. Second, the relationship between the interpretation bias and levels of harmful drinking was investigated.


The sample included 125 clinically diagnosed AP and 69 clinically diagnosed control patients (CP) who had either a mood or an anxiety disorder. Participants completed a booklet containing 12 open-ended ambiguous scenarios. Seven scenarios were alcohol-relevant, and 5 were emotionally relevant, that is, panic- or depression-relevant. Participants were asked to read each scenario and to generate a continuation. In addition, the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) and Beck Depression Inventory were administered.


Logistic multivariate multilevel analyses revealed that AP’ probability of generating an alcohol-related continuation on all 3 scenario types was higher than that of CP. Moreover, alcohol-related interpretation biases were positively associated with levels of harmful drinking (i.e., AUDIT scores).


These findings are the first to show that AP show an alcohol-related interpretation bias, which generalizes to other ambiguous emotionally relevant contexts, and therefore advance our understanding of the role of implicit biased alcohol-related memory associations and interpretation processes.