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Can we boost attention and inhibition in binge drinking? Electrophysiological impact of neurocognitive stimulation

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Binge drinking (i.e. excessive episodic alcohol consumption) among young adults has been associated with deleterious consequences, notably at the cognitive and brain levels. These behavioural impairments and brain alterations have a direct impact on psychological and interpersonal functioning, but they might also be involved in the transition towards severe alcohol use disorders. Development of effective rehabilitation programs to reduce these negative effects as they emerge thus constitutes a priority in subclinical populations.


The present study tested the behavioural and electrophysiological impact of neurocognitive stimulation (i.e. transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied during a cognitive task) to improve attention and inhibition abilities in young binge drinkers.


Two groups (20 binge drinkers and 20 non-binge drinkers) performed two sessions in a counterbalanced order. Each session consisted of an inhibition task (i.e. Neutral Go/No-Go) while participants received left frontal tDCS or sham stimulation, immediately followed by an Alcohol-related Go/No-Go task, while both behavioural and electrophysiological measures were recorded.


No significant differences were observed between groups or sessions (tDCS versus sham stimulation) at the behavioural level. However, electrophysiological measurements during the alcohol-related inhibition task revealed a specific effect of tDCS on attentional resource mobilization (indexed by the N2 component) in binge drinkers, whereas later inhibition processes (indexed by the P3 component) remained unchanged in this population.


The present findings indicate that tDCS can modify the electrophysiological correlates of cognitive processes in binge drinking. While the impact of such brain modifications on actual neuropsychological functioning and alcohol consumption behaviours remains to be determined, these results underline the potential interest of developing neurocognitive stimulation approaches in this population.

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    Complementary statistical analyses, including gender as a between-subject factor for all experimental variables (alcohol consumption, behavioural and electrophysiological measures), did not show any significant difference between females and males, either for the whole sample or within BD/non-BD groups.


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We thank Laura Ninane, Celia Rotha and Stéphane Acke for their help in data collection.


Pierre Maurage (Senior Research Associate) is funded by the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS, Belgium), and this research has been supported by a grant from the Fondation pour la Recherche en Alcoologie (FRA), but these funds did not exert any editorial direction or censorship on any part of this article.

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Dormal, V., Lannoy, S., Bollen, Z. et al. Can we boost attention and inhibition in binge drinking? Electrophysiological impact of neurocognitive stimulation. Psychopharmacology (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05475-2

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  • Binge drinking
  • Inhibition
  • Event-related potentials
  • Neuromodulation
  • tDCS