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Keywords:

  • Heavy Drinking;
  • Depressive Symptoms;
  • Anxiety Symptoms;
  • Neuroimaging;
  • Craving

Background:  Depressive and anxiety symptoms tend to co-occur with heavy drinking. Specifically, their presence may exacerbate the severity and intractability of heavy drinking. Similarly, heavy drinking may increase the risk for and experience of depressive and anxiety symptoms. Although depressive and anxiety symptoms have been significantly correlated with alcohol craving in cue-exposure paradigms, physiological responses have not always mapped onto emotional responses. Therefore, this study sought to examine the role of depressive and anxiety symptoms using a more basic science approach, through examining functional brain changes.

Methods:  Seventy nontreatment seeking, heavy drinking adults were recruited through a college campus (n = 45 men; mean age = 22.8). They completed measures of drinking, smoking, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) cue-exposure paradigm.

Results:  As hypothesized, depressive symptoms were positively correlated with activation during the alcohol (vs. appetitive control) cue in the insula, cingulate, ventral tegmentum, striatum, and thalamus (cluster-corrected p < 0.05, z = 2.3). Similarly, anxiety symptoms were positively correlated with activation during the alcohol (vs. appetitive control) cue in the striatum, thalamus, insula, and inferior frontal, mid-frontal, and cingulate gyri (cluster-corrected p < 0.05, z = 2.3).

Conclusions:  Significant correlations were found between depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and differential brain activation in response to an alcohol versus an appetitive control cue in an fMRI paradigm. Moreover, the pattern of activation mapped onto expected regions. This study strongly supports the posited relationships between depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and differential brain activation in an alcohol cue-exposure paradigm with a sample of heavy drinking adults.