Recent research has applied cue-reactivity paradigms to behavioral addictions. The aim of the current meta-analysis is to systematically analyze the effects of learning-based cue-reactivity in behavioral addictions.
The current meta-analysis includes 18 studies (29 data sets, 510 participants) that have used a cue-reactivity paradigm in persons with gambling (eight studies), gaming (nine studies), or buying (one study) disorders. We compared subjective, peripheral physiological, electroencephal, and neural responses toward addiction-relevant cues in patients versus control participants and toward addiction-relevant cues versus control cues in patients.
Persons with behavioral addictions showed higher cue-reactivity toward addiction-relevant cues compared with control participants: subjective cue-reactivity (d = 0.84, p = .01) and peripheral physiological and electroencephal measures of cue-reactivity (d = 0.61, p < .01). Increased neural activation was found in the caudate nucleus, inferior frontal gyrus, median cingulate cortex, subgenual cingulate, and precentral gyrus. Persons with gambling, gaming, or buying disorders also showed higher cue-reactivity toward addiction-relevant cues compared with control cues: subjective cue-reactivity (d = 0.39, p = .11) and peripheral physiological and electroencephal measures of cue-reactivity (d = 0.47, p = .05). Increased neural activation was found in the caudate nucleus, inferior frontal gyrus, angular gyrus, inferior network, and precuneus.
Discussion and conclusions
Cue-reactivity not only exists in substance-use disorders but also in gambling, gaming, and buying disorders. Future research should differentiate between cue-reactivity in addictive behaviors and cue-reactivity in functional excessive behaviors such as passions, hobbies, or professions.
Unregulated Internet pornography (IP) use is discussed as a clinically significant disorder. Because of its primarily rewarding nature, IP is a predestinated target for addictive behaviors. However, not every user develops an unregulated usage pattern. In fact, most users tend to use IP recreationally. Impulsivity-related constructs have been identified as promoters of addictive behaviors. It is unclear whether these impulsivity-related constructs are specific for unregulated IP use or also play a role in recreational but frequent behaviors. In this study, we investigated impulsive tendencies (trait impulsivity, delay discounting, and cognitive style), craving toward IP, attitude regarding IP, and coping styles in individuals with recreational–occasional, recreational–frequent, and unregulated IP use.
A total of 1,498 heterosexual males participated in an online survey. Groups of individuals with recreational–occasional use (n = 333), recreational–frequent use (n = 394), and unregulated use (n = 225) of IP were identified by screening instruments.
Craving and attitude regarding IP as well as delay discounting and cognitive and coping styles differed between groups. Individuals with unregulated use showed the highest scores for craving, attentional impulsivity, delay discounting, and dysfunctional coping, and lowest scores for functional coping and need for cognition. Recreational–frequent users had the most positive attitude toward IP. Motor and non-planning impulsivity did not differ between groups.
Discussion and conclusions
The results indicate that some facets of impulsivity and related factors such as craving and a more negative attitude are specific for unregulated IP users. The results are also consistent with models on specific Internet use disorders and addictive behaviors.
Social-networks-use disorder is discussed as a potential further type of disorders due to addictive behaviors. Theoretical models assume cue-induced craving and disadvantageous decision making to be relevant mechanisms. This study investigates if the presentation of social-networks-related cues interferes with decision making under ambiguity.
Craving was induced with a cue-reactivity paradigm and assessed with a visual analogue scale. Participants (N = 146) played a modified Iowa Gambling Task with social-networks-related cues and neutral cues presented on the advantageous and disadvantageous decks respectively, or vice versa. Symptoms of social-networks-use disorder were measured with a modified version of the short Internet Addiction Test.
Overall, participants chose options with neutral cues more often than those with social-networks-related cues, even if it was disadvantageous. There was a significant interaction between decision-making performance and Iowa Gambling Task condition in predicting symptom severity. The results indicate that choosing decks with social-networks-related cues even if it was disadvantageous is associated with higher tendencies towards a social-networks-use disorder. The interaction with cue-induced craving did not explain further variance.
Discussion and Conclusions
The results highlight the relevance of cue reactivity, decision making, and their interaction as potential mechanisms explaining tendencies towards a social-networks-use disorder. Decision making was influenced by affective responses, which could result in a higher risk of a potential addictive behavior. This is consistent with the findings from addiction research and with theoretical approaches assuming an imbalance between affective and cognitive processes in addictive behaviors.
Consensus in acknowledging compulsive buying-shopping disorder (CBSD) as a distinct diagnosis has been lacking. Before research in this area can be advanced, it is necessary to establish diagnostic criteria in order to facilitate field trials.
The study consisted of the following phases: (1) operationalization of a broad range of potential diagnostic criteria for CBSD, (2) two iterative rounds of data collection using the Delphi method, where consensus of potential diagnostic criteria for CBSD was reached by an international expert panel, and (3) interpretation of findings taking into account the degree of certainty amongst experts regarding their responses.
With respect to diagnostic criteria, there was clear expert consensus about inclusion of the persistent and recurrent experience of (a) intrusive and/or irresistible urges and/or impulses and/or cravings and/or preoccupations for buying/shopping; (b) diminished control over buying/shopping; (c) excessive purchasing of items without utilizing them for their intended purposes, (d) use of buying-shopping to regulate internal states; (e) negative consequences and impairment in important areas of functioning due to buying/shopping; (f) emotional and cognitive symptoms upon cessation of excessive buying/shopping; and (g) maintenance or escalation of dysfunctional buying/shopping behaviors despite negative consequences. Furthermore, support was found for a specifier related to the presence of excessive hoarding of purchased items.
The proposed diagnostic criteria can be used as the basis for the development of diagnostic interviews and measures of CBSD severity.
Gambling and gaming disorders have been included as “disorders due to addictive behaviors” in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Other problematic behaviors may be considered as “other specified disorders due to addictive behaviors (6C5Y).”
Narrative review, experts' opinions.
We suggest the following meta-level criteria for considering potential addictive behaviors as fulfilling the category of “other specified disorders due to addictive behaviors”:
1. Clinical relevance: Empirical evidence from multiple scientific studies demonstrates that the specific potential addictive behavior is clinically relevant and individuals experience negative consequences and functional impairments in daily life due to the problematic and potentially addictive behavior.
2. Theoretical embedding: Current theories and theoretical models belonging to the field of research on addictive behaviors describe and explain most appropriately the candidate phenomenon of a potential addictive behavior.
3. Empirical evidence: Data based on self-reports, clinical interviews, surveys, behavioral experiments, and, if available, biological investigations (neural, physiological, genetic) suggest that psychological (and neurobiological) mechanisms involved in other addictive behaviors are also valid for the candidate phenomenon. Varying degrees of support for problematic forms of pornography use, buying and shopping, and use of social networks are available. These conditions may fit the category of “other specified disorders due to addictive behaviors”.
It is important not to over-pathologize everyday-life behavior while concurrently not trivializing conditions that are of clinical importance and that deserve public health considerations. The proposed meta-level-criteria may help guide both research efforts and clinical practice.