Automatic avoidance tendencies for alcohol cues predict drinking after detoxification treatment in alcohol dependence

Document Type

Journal Article


Educational Publishing Foundation


School of Arts and Humanities




Field, M., Di Lemma, L., Christiansen, P., & Dickson, J. (2017). Automatic avoidance tendencies for alcohol cues predict drinking after detoxification treatment in alcohol dependence. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(2), 171.

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Alcohol dependence is characterized by conflict between approach and avoidance motivational orientations for alcohol that operate in automatic and controlled processes. This article describes the first study to investigate the predictive validity of these motivational orientations for relapse to drinking after discharge from alcohol detoxification treatment in alcohol-dependent patients. One hundred twenty alcohol-dependent patients who were nearing the end of inpatient detoxification treatment completed measures of self-reported (Approach and Avoidance of Alcohol Questionnaire; AAAQ) and automatic (modified Stimulus-Response Compatibility task) approach and avoidance motivational orientations for alcohol. Their drinking behavior was assessed via telephone follow-ups at 2, 4, and 6 months after discharge from treatment. Results indicated that, after controlling for the severity of alcohol dependence, strong automatic avoidance tendencies for alcohol cues were predictive of higher percentage of heavy drinking days (PHDD) at 4-month (β = 0.22, 95% CI [0.07, 0.43]) and 6-month (β = 0.22, 95% CI [0.01, 0.42]) follow-ups. We failed to replicate previous demonstrations of the predictive validity of approach subscales of the AAAQ for relapse to drinking, and there were no significant predictors of PHDD at 2-month follow-up. In conclusion, strong automatic avoidance tendencies predicted relapse to drinking after inpatient detoxification treatment, but automatic approach tendencies and self-reported approach and avoidance tendencies were not predictive in this study. Our results extend previous findings and help to resolve ambiguities with earlier studies that investigated the roles of automatic and controlled cognitive processes in recovery from alcohol dependence.

This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive rights to publish the article and identify itself as the original publisher.



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