BACKGROUND: Attentional bias for substance-relevant cues has been found to contribute to the persistence of addiction. Attentional bias modification (ABM) interventions might, therefore, increase positive treatment outcome and reduce relapse rates. The current study investigated the effectiveness of a newly developed home-delivered, multi-session, internet-based ABM intervention, the Bouncing Image Training Task (BITT), as an add-on to treatment as usual (TAU).
METHODS: Participants (N = 169), diagnosed with alcohol or cannabis use disorder, were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: the experimental ABM group (50%; TAU+ABM); or the control group (50%; split in two subgroups the TAU+placebo group and TAU-only group, 25% each). Participants completed baseline, post-test, and 6 and 12 months follow-up measures of substance use and craving allowing to assess long-term treatment success and relapse rates. In addition, attentional bias (both engagement and disengagement), as well as secondary physical and psychological complaints (depression, anxiety, and stress) were assessed.
RESULTS: No significant differences were found between conditions with regard to substance use, craving, relapse rates, attentional bias, or physical and psychological complaints.
CONCLUSIONS: The findings may reflect unsuccessful modification of attentional bias, the BITT not targeting the relevant process (engagement vs. disengagement bias), or may relate to the diverse treatment goals of the current sample (i.e., moderation or abstinence). The current findings provide no support for the efficacy of this ABM approach as an add-on to TAU in alcohol or cannabis use disorder. Future studies need to delineate the role of engagement and disengagement bias in the persistence of addiction, and the role of treatment goal in the effectiveness of ABM interventions.