Previous research has demonstrated that drug cues are able to capture attentional resources in addicted populations. However, few studies have controlled for the possibility that drug users find all motivationally significant (i.e., affective) stimuli particularly salient. We examined this issue in opiate addiction, by exploring the impact of drug-related and affective stimuli on central attentional processes. Sixteen male heroin addicts (seven on opiate pharmacotherapy and nine recently detoxified subjects) and 12 matched controls were studied. Subjects were fitted with a 32-channel electrode cap and were instructed to passively view a series of neutral, affective and opiate-related images. The P300 elicited by drug-related stimuli was significantly larger than that elicited by affective and neutral stimuli in opiate users but not controls. Baseline ratings of craving were also found to predict the degree of P300 facilitation to the drug-related stimuli in the addicted group. Further, the opiate group demonstrated an absence of the typical enhancement of ERP responses to non-drug affective stimuli. These results suggest that opiate addicts demonstrate greater cortical processing of drug cues than other types of affective stimuli. Further research is required to assess whether addiction is specifically associated with reduced sensitivity to natural rewards, aversive stimuli or affective cues in general. © 2008 British Association for Psychopharmacology.
- Drug cues
- Opiate dependence