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Publication Detail
Long-term behavioural rewriting of maladaptive drinking memories via reconsolidation-update mechanisms.
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Gale G, Walsh K, Hennessy VE, Stemerding LE, Ni KS, Thomas E, Kamboj SK, Das RK
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    1, 11
  • Journal:
    Psychol Med
  • Status:
  • Country:
  • PII:
  • Language:
  • Keywords:
    Addiction, alcohol, counterconditioning, experimental medicine, memory, reconsolidation
BACKGROUND: Alcohol use disorders can be conceptualised as a learned pattern of maladaptive alcohol-consumption behaviours. The memories encoding these behaviours centrally contribute to long-term excessive alcohol consumption and are therefore an important therapeutic target. The transient period of memory instability sparked during memory reconsolidation offers a therapeutic window to directly rewrite these memories using targeted behavioural interventions. However, clinically-relevant demonstrations of the efficacy of this approach are few. We examined key retrieval parameters for destabilising naturalistic drinking memories and the ability of subsequent counterconditioning to effect long-term reductions in drinking. METHODS: Hazardous/harmful beer-drinking volunteers (N = 120) were factorially randomised to retrieve (RET) or not retrieve (No RET) alcohol reward memories with (PE) or without (No PE) alcohol reward prediction error. All participants subsequently underwent disgust-based counterconditioning of drinking cues. Acute responses to alcohol were assessed pre- and post-manipulation and drinking levels were assessed up to 9 months. RESULTS: Greater long-term reductions in drinking were found when counterconditioning was conducted following retrieval (with and without PE), despite a lack of short-term group differences in motivational responding to acute alcohol. Large variability in acute levels of learning during counterconditioning was noted. 'Responsiveness' to counterconditioning predicted subsequent responses to acute alcohol in RET + PE only, consistent with reconsolidation-update mechanisms. CONCLUSIONS: The longevity of behavioural interventions designed to reduce problematic drinking levels may be enhanced by leveraging reconsolidation-update mechanisms to rewrite maladaptive memory. However, inter-individual variability in levels of corrective learning is likely to determine the efficacy of reconsolidation-updating interventions and should be considered when designing and assessing interventions.
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