Behavioral assessment of impulsivity in pathological gamblers with and without substance use disorder histories versus healthy controls

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009 Nov 1;105(1-2):89-96. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.06.011. Epub 2009 Jul 16.


Pathological gamblers (PGs) may have high levels of impulsivity, and a correlation between substance use disorders (SUDs) and impulsivity is well established. However, only a handful of studies have attempted to assess impulsivity and other impulse-spectrum traits (e.g., sensation seeking) using a variety of behavioral and self-report measures in PGs and few examined the independent impact of SUDs. We compared 30 PGs without SUD histories, 31 PGs with SUD histories and 40 control participants on self-reported impulsivity, delayed discounting, attention/memory, response inhibition, risk taking, sensation seeking and distress tolerance measures. PGs, regardless of SUD history, discounted delayed rewards at greater rates than controls. PGs also reported acting on the spur of the moment, experienced trouble planning and thinking carefully, and noted greater attention difficulties than controls. PGs with SUD took greater risks on a risk-taking task than did PGs without SUD histories, but the two groups did not differ on any other measures of impulsivity. We conclude that PGs are more impulsive than non-problem gamblers in fairly specific ways, but PGs with and without SUD histories differ on few measures. More research should focus on specific ways in which PGs exhibit impulsivity to better address impulsive behaviors in treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Income
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Reward
  • Risk-Taking
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*