Impulsivity in abstinent alcohol-dependent patients: relation to control subjects and type 1-/type 2-like traits

Alcohol. Oct-Nov 2004;34(2-3):133-50. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2004.06.012.


Extensive literature has linked behavior control problems in childhood to risk for alcoholism, but impulsivity in alcohol-dependent adults has not been well characterized. Using a variety of laboratory measures of impulsivity, we assessed whether detoxified alcohol-dependent patients [(ADP); n = 130] were more impulsive than control subjects [(CS); n = 41]. In comparison with CS, ADP demonstrated (1) increased rates of commission errors, but not omission errors, in a continuous performance test, (2) a more severe devaluation of delayed reward, (3) increased rates of risky responses in a new risk-taking paradigm, and (4) higher psychometric scores of impulsivity and aggression. Across all subjects, aggressiveness correlated significantly with severity of delay discounting. A post hoc analysis of data obtained for male ADP indicated that, in comparison with patients with late onset of problem drinking and no problem-drinking parent, those ADP with earlier age of problem drinking and who reported a problem-drinking father (type 2-like alcohol dependence) demonstrated faster response latencies and more responses to non-target stimuli (commission errors) in the continuous performance test, as well as higher psychometric aggression. In contrast, these subtypes of male ADP did not differ in delay discounting and risk taking. These findings collectively indicate that, in comparison with CS, ADP are more impulsive in several dimensions, with elevated impulsivity in a working memory task as well as aggressivity characteristic of alcohol-dependent men with type 2-like features.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Risk-Taking
  • Temperance / psychology*