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Keywords:

  • Alcoholism;
  • craving;
  • cortisol;
  • neuroendocrine;
  • PTSD;
  • stress

Abstract

Alcohol addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder that presents a substantial public health problem, and is frequently co-morbid with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Craving for alcohol is a predictor of relapse to alcohol use, and is triggered by cues associated with alcohol and trauma. Identification of reliable and valid laboratory methods for craving induction is an important objective for alcoholism and PTSD research. The present study compares two methods for induction of craving via stress and alcohol cues in individuals with co-morbid alcohol dependence (AD) and PTSD: the combined Trier social stress test and cue reactivity paradigm (Trier/CR), and a guided imagery (Scripts) paradigm. Outcomes include self-reported measures of craving, stress and anxiety as well as endocrine measures. Subjects were 52 individuals diagnosed with co-morbid AD and PTSD seeking treatment at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism inpatient research facility. They participated in a 4-week inpatient study of the efficacy of a neurokinin 1 antagonist to treat co-morbid AD and PTSD, and which included the two challenge procedures. Both the Trier/CR and Scripts induced craving for alcohol, as well as elevated levels of subjective distress and anxiety. The Trier/CR yielded significant increases in adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol, while the Scripts did not. Both paradigms are effective laboratory means of inducing craving for alcohol. Further research is warranted to better understand the mechanisms behind craving induced by stress versus alcohol cues, as well as to understand the impact of co-morbid PTSD and AD on craving.