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Keywords:

  • cocaine addiction;
  • emotional processing;
  • human participants;
  • late positive potential;
  • motivated attention

Abstract

Event-related potentials (ERPs) are a direct measure of neural activity and are ideally suited to study the time-course of attentional engagement with emotional and drug-related stimuli in addiction. In particular, the late positive potential (LPP) appears to be enhanced following cocaine-related compared with neutral stimuli in human participants with cocaine use disorders (CUD). However, previous studies have not directly compared cocaine-related with emotional stimuli while examining potential differences between abstinent and current cocaine users. The present study examined ERPs in 55 CUD (27 abstinent and 28 current users) and 29 matched healthy controls while they passively viewed pleasant, unpleasant, neutral and cocaine-related pictures. To examine the time-course of attention to these stimuli, we analysed both an early and later window in the LPP as well as the early posterior negativity (EPN), established in assessing motivated attention. Cocaine pictures elicited increased electrocortical measures of motivated attention in ways similar to affectively pleasant and unpleasant pictures in all CUD, an effect that was no longer discernible during the late LPP window for the current users. This group also exhibited deficient processing of the other emotional stimuli (early LPP window – pleasant pictures; late LPP window – pleasant and unpleasant pictures). Results were unique to the LPP and not EPN. Taken together, results support a relatively early attention bias to cocaine stimuli in cocaine-addicted individuals, further suggesting that recent cocaine use decreases such attention bias during later stages of processing but at the expense of deficient processing of other emotional stimuli.