Individuals with problematic alcohol use were found to have differential activity in the anterior cingulate cortices during alcohol use which could have effects on emotional conflict resolution, according to results of a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

For this study, participants (N=46) were recruited for a double-blind, randomized controlled treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD). In this analysis, baseline pretreatment data were evaluated.

At baseline participants underwent clinical diagnostic interviews, physical and neurologic examinations, health and drug toxicology bloodwork, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan while performing the Stroop task. Participants were evaluated by MRI in neutral and alcohol conditions.

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Most of the study participants were men (n=32), the average age was 40.8 (SD, 11.0) years, 95.7% were White, and 63% reported a family income >$75,000.

The participants had significantly slower reaction times during alcohol trials (t, 7.85; P <.001) and during incongruent Stroop trials (t, 8.78; P <.001) compared with neutral trials and congruent Stroop trials, respectively. Accuracy did not differ between alcohol and neutral conditions (t, 0.83; P =.41) but did differ during incongruent Stroop trials (t, 3.67; P =.01).

In general, during the alcohol condition, participants had increased activity of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and supplementary motor area, precentral gyrus, postcentral gyrus, and occipital lobe. During neutral trials, participants had increased activity in the bilateral cerebellum, occipital lobe, and inferior parietal lobe.

Activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) was significantly higher during alcohol compared with neutral trials relative to incongruent to congruent trials (t, 2.80; P =.01). This trend was not observed in the dACC (t, -0.08; P =.94).

dACC activity was positively correlated with self-reported Alcohol Dependence Scale scores during the incongruent to congruent contrast (r, 0.31; P =.03) but was not correlated during the alcohol to neutral contrast (r, -0.05; P =.75). AUD was not associated with rACC activity.

The major limitation of this study was the lack of a control group.

The study authors concluded, “Using a unique Stroop paradigm, we examined the behavioral and brain responses to alcohol and nonalcohol-related Stroop interference in adults with AUD. Although both the alcohol and the classic Stroop resulted in behavioral interference (ie, slowed reaction times), the pattern of cingulate activity differed between the alcohol and classic Stroop.”


Murray L, Welsh JC, Johnson CG, Kaiser RH, Farchione TJ, Janes AC. Alcohol- and nonalcohol-related interference: An fMRI study of treatment-seeking adults with alcohol use disorder. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022;235:109462. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109462