Background: Impulsive behavior in humans predicts the onset of drinking during adolescence and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) in adulthood. It is also possible, however, that heavy drinking may increase impulsive behavior by affecting the development of brain areas that support behavioral control or through other associated mechanisms. This study examined whether drinking heavily during adolescence is related to changes in impulsive behavior with a specific focus on how the association differs across individuals, contingent on the developmental course of their impulsiveness.
Method: Data came from a sample of boys (N = 503) who were followed annually from approximate age 8 to age 18 and again at approximate age 24/25. Heavy drinking was defined as experiencing a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher. At each assessment, the parent and child each reported whether the child was impulsive.
Results: First, group-based trajectory analysis was used to identify 4 groups differing in the level and slopes of their trajectories of impulsive behavior from age 9 to age 17: low (13.9%), early adolescence-limited (18.7%), moderate (60.8%), and high (6.6%). These trajectory groups differed in their prevalence of any heavy drinking, peak BACs, and rates of alcohol dependence in adolescence and AUD in early adulthood, with the less impulsive groups being lower on these measures than the more impulsive groups. Heavy drinking was then entered into the model as a time-varying covariate; this measure was lagged so that the results represent change in impulsive behavior the year following heavy drinking. Among boys on the moderate trajectory, those who drank heavily were rated as significantly more impulsive the following year compared to those who did not drink heavily.
Conclusions: The association between heavy drinking and impulsive behavior may depend on earlier levels of impulsive behavior with those who are moderately impulsive appearing to be at greatest risk for increased impulsive behavior following heavy drinking. Further research is needed to clarify this association.
Copyright © 2010 by the Research Society on Alcoholism.