Behavioural inhibition system (BIS) and behavioural activation system (BAS) as predictors of emotional and cognitive deficits observed in alcohol abstainers

Lilijana Sprah, Tatjana Novak
Psychiatria Danubina 2008, 20 (2): 184-93

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of the present study was to determine which aspects of motivational, cognitive and emotional functioning were impaired in a group of alcoholics after 8 weeks of abstinence. We also examined the clinical applicability of the BIS/BAS Scales (Carver & White 1994) used in order to identify a potential association between behavioural inhibition / activation tendencies and emotional and cognitive deficits in alcohol abstainers.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: 33 right- handed middle- aged (mean age 45.0 years) male alcohol inpatients in treatment and 36 healthy volunteers without a previous drinking history, matched for age, education and handedness participated in the study. Both groups were assessed with the composite of tests in the following domains: motivation, attention, emotional processing, visuospatial functioning and working memory.

RESULTS: Alcohol abstainers revealed heightened BAS sensitivity, more pronounced depressive symptoms and attentional deficits compared to controls, while working memory and visuospatial abilities did not significantly differ between the groups. Elevated BAS sensitivity correlated with the length of abstinence, whereas BIS sensitivity associated with the presence of suicidal history and with selective attention difficulties.

CONCLUSIONS: Our research confirmed several previous studies that some cognitive and visuospatial deficits could improve during alcohol abstinence, while motivational tendencies, attentional and emotional functioning take longer to recover. Application of the BIS/BAS Scales proved a useful instrument for assessment of the alcohol abstainers' rehabilitation process. In this regard, when planning treatment programmes for alcoholics, approach and withdrawal motivational tendencies, neuropsychological dysfunctions and psychiatric comorbidity should be considered.


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