Attenuated salivary cortisol secretion under cue exposure is associated with early relapse

K. Junghanns*, U. Tietz, L. Dibbelt, M. Kuether, R. Jurth, D. Ehrenthal, S. Blank, J. Backhaus

*Corresponding author for this work
73 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: To test whether the risk of relapse in alcohol dependence is predicted by the subjective experience of cue exposure (CE) and/or cortisol reactivity to alcohol cues. Methods: Salivary cortisol and self-ratings of 'tension' and 'desire to drink' were measured in 32 detoxified alcohol-dependent inpatients during CE sessions conducted in the first and third week of motivation enhancement therapy. Subjects completed the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and the Abbreviated Alcohol Expectancy Questionnaire (B-AEQ) towards the end of the inpatient treatment to measure emotional self-awareness and the expected positive effects of alcohol. Results: Six weeks after the end of the inpatient treatment, 15 patients were abstinent. Relapse was verified or was presumed for 17 patients. Those who had relapsed had shown an attenuated response to CE in the third week as an inpatient but did not differ from abstainers in terms of subjective reaction to cues. Subjective ratings of CE were not related to salivary cortisol or relapse but showed several associations with factors one and two of the TAS-20. The expectancy of enhanced social contacts by using alcohol (factor 1 of the B-AEQ) correlated negatively with the decline in salivary cortisol during the CE session in the third week of treatment. Subjective ratings of CE correlated with Alexithymiascores. Conclusions: Alcoholic patients who use alcohol to enhance their social contacts typically lack hypothalamo-hypophyscal-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) reactivity in the early period of abstention. They are at an increased risk of early relapse and perhaps use alcohol to increase cortisol secretion again.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAlcohol and Alcoholism
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)80-85
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 01.2005

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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