Background: Although decision-making processes have become a principal target of study among addiction researchers, few studies have specifically examined decision-making among individuals with alcohol dependence (AD) and findings to date are mixed. The present study examined the relationship between AD and decision-making, and tested whether different facets of antisocial and psychopathic traits explain this association.
Methods: Participants were men with AD (n = 22), AD and comorbid antisocial personality disorder (AD + ASPD; n = 17), or a history of recreational alcohol use, but no current or lifetime symptoms of a substance use disorder, conduct disorder, or ASPD (n = 21). Decision-making was tested using the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT).
Results: Across groups, participants reported similar levels of awareness of the contingencies of the task, but the AD groups with and without ASPD had poorer IGT performance compared with controls (p < 0.05). A block-by-block analysis revealed that while AD had slow but steady improvement across the task, AD + ASPD exhibited initial improvement followed by a significant decrease in advantageous decision-making during the last 20 trials (p < 0.05). This was further confirmed via evidence that impulsive/antisocial personality traits but not psychopathic traits mediated poor IGT performance beyond ASPD diagnosis.
Conclusions: Alcohol-dependent males favored risky choices regardless of whether they met criteria for ASPD. However, decision-making deficits were more pronounced among those with ASPD, and personality traits characterized by impulsive and antisocial tendencies mediated the relationship between AD and decision-making.