Understanding the construct of impulsivity and its relationship to alcohol use disorders

Addict Biol. 2010 Apr;15(2):217-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2009.00190.x.


There are well-established links between impulsivity and alcohol use in humans and other model organisms; however, the etiological nature of these associations remains unclear. This is likely due, in part, to the heterogeneous nature of the construct of impulsivity. Many different measures of impulsivity have been employed in human studies, using both questionnaire and laboratory-based tasks. Animal studies also use multiple tasks to assess the construct of impulsivity. In both human and animal studies, different measures of impulsivity often show little correlation and are differentially related to outcome, suggesting that the impulsivity construct may actually consist of a number of more homogeneous (and potentially more meaningful) subfacets. Here, we provide an overview of the different measures of impulsivity used across human and animal studies, evidence that the construct of impulsivity may be better studied in the context of more meaningful subfacets, and recommendations for how research in this direction may provide for better consilience between human and animal studies of the connection between impulsivity and alcohol use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / psychology*
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Social Behavior
  • Species Specificity