Alcohol dependence has long been related to impaired processing and handling of negative emotions. This is the first study to compare emotion regulation (ER) at a behavioral and neural level in alcohol dependent patients (ADPs) and healthy controls (HCs). It also examines the effects of high-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on ER abilities and related craving levels in ADPs.
Thirty-six ADPs and 32 HCs matched on age, sex, and education, were included in a within-subject fixed-order study with one functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session and one rTMS plus fMRI session, with high-frequency (10 Hz) rTMS over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). An fMRI emotion regulation task (ERT) was administered during both sessions and craving was measured before and after each ERT.
ADPs were impaired in the regulation of negative emotion and showed a higher activation of ER related brain areas compared to HCs. Furthermore, active rTMS improved ER abilities in both ADPs and HCs, but was accompanied by a decrease in anterior cingulate and left dlPFC activity only in ADPs. In addition, the ERT-induced increase in craving levels in ADPs was trend-significantly reduced by active rTMS, with a large effect size.
ADPs are impaired in the regulation of negative emotion and show enhanced neural activity in the ER brain circuit. High-frequency rTMS improves ER in ADPs and HCs and normalizes neural activity and tends to reduce craving in ADPs. Future studies are needed to test the long-term effects of (multiple session) rTMS on ER, craving, and drinking.
The authors have not supplied their declaration of competing interest.