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Alcohol-Induced Impairment of Inhibitory Control Is Linked to Attenuated Brain Responses in Right Fronto-Temporal Cortex

      Background

      A self-enhancing loop between impaired inhibitory control under alcohol and alcohol consumption has been proposed as a possible mechanism underlying dysfunctional drinking in susceptible people. However, the neural underpinnings of alcohol-induced impairment of inhibitory control are widely unknown.

      Methods

      We measured inhibitory control in 50 young adults with a stop-signal task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. In a single-blind placebo-controlled cross-over design, all participants performed the stop-signal task once under alcohol with a breath alcohol concentration of .6 g/kg and once under placebo. In addition, alcohol consumption was assessed with a free-access alcohol self-administration paradigm in the same participants.

      Results

      Inhibitory control was robustly decreased under alcohol compared with placebo, indicated by longer stop-signal reaction times. On the neural level, impaired inhibitory control under alcohol was associated with attenuated brain responses in the right fronto-temporal portion of the inhibition network that supports the attentional capture of infrequent stop-signals and subsequent updating of action plans from response execution to inhibition. Furthermore, the extent of alcohol-induced impairment of inhibitory control predicted free-access alcohol consumption.

      Conclusions

      We suggest that during inhibitory control alcohol affects cognitive processes preceding actual motor inhibition. Under alcohol, decreased brain responses in right fronto-temporal areas might slow down the attentional capture of infrequent stop-signals and subsequent updating of action plans, which leads to impaired inhibitory control. In turn, pronounced alcohol-induced impairment of inhibitory control might enhance alcohol consumption in young adults, which might promote future alcohol problems.

      Key Words

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      Linked Article

      • Alcohol and the Paradox of Self-Control
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 76Issue 9
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          In Raphael’s “Vision of a Knight” ( http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/raphael-an-allegory-vision-of-a-knight ), a sleeping figure dreams of the two paths offered to him. On the left is Virtue, with a long winding road leading up to a castle representing earthly success; on the right is Pleasure, holding a flower. He must choose between immediate reward versus hard work and the promise of future riches. Although Raphael’s knight appears anything but conflicted, the type of self-control he faces is felt to be mentally demanding.
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