Age at first drink relates to behavioral measures of impulsivity: the immediate and delayed memory tasks

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 Mar;28(3):408-14. doi: 10.1097/01.alc.0000117834.53719.a8.


Background: This study examined the relationship between laboratory-measured impulsivity and age at first drink.

Methods: Using a laboratory behavioral measure of impulsivity [Immediate (IMT) and Delayed Memory Tasks (DMT)], we compared two groups of women differing in their self-reported age at first drink (early-onset drinking, age <18 years, n = 40; late-onset drinking, age > or =21 years, n = 23). It was expected that those who first consumed alcohol before the legal drinking age (i.e., early onset) would perform in a more impulsive manner on the laboratory behavioral measure than the late-onset drinkers.

Results: The main finding was that the early-onset group (IMT: mean, 28.7%; DMT: mean, 30.4%) had increased commission error rates compared with the late-onset group (IMT: mean, 21.2%; DMT: mean, 15.5%) during both the IMT [ANOVA:F (1,61) = 4.30; p = 0.042; f = 0.27] and DMT [F (1,61) = 10.76; p = 0.002; f = 0.42]. Age at first drink was significantly correlated with DMT commission errors (r = -0.23; p = 0.037), although this was only at the trend level for IMT commission errors (r = -0.20; p = 0.062); these correlations are likely to be underestimates because of range restriction of the age variable.

Conclusions: These results demonstrate that differences in impulsive behavioral responding are distinguishable even between groups of alcohol drinkers who are not experiencing clinically significant problems with alcohol.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*