Adults with a family history of alcohol related problems are more impulsive on measures of response initiation and response inhibition

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011 Sep 1;117(2-3):198-203. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.02.001. Epub 2011 Mar 3.


Background: Previous studies have found individuals with family histories of alcohol use disorders are more impulsive on some but not all laboratory behavioral measures, suggesting deficits on specific forms of impulse control. However, drawing conclusions is tenuous because these different measures have not been administered together in the same group of participants.

Methods: In the present study, we compared healthy 21-35 year old adults with family histories of alcohol related problems (FHAP+) or without such histories (FHAP-) on behavioral measures of response inhibition, response initiation, and consequence sensitivity impulsivity. FHAP+ (n=36) and FHAP- (n=36) participants were compared on performance on the Immediate Memory Task (IMT, response initiation), GoStop Impulsivity Paradigm (GoStop, response inhibition), Two Choice Impulsivity Paradigm (TCIP, consequence sensitivity) and Single Key Impulsivity Paradigm (SKIP, consequence sensitivity).

Results: FHAP+ individuals were more impulsive on the IMT and GoStop but not on the TCIP or SKIP.

Conclusions: These results suggest that response initiation and response inhibition impulsivity are increased in individuals with family histories of alcohol related problems despite not having alcohol or drug use disorders themselves. In contrast, increased consequence sensitivity impulsivity may be associated with additional risk factors such as more severe family histories of alcohol use disorders, or it may be increased as a consequence of heavy drug or alcohol use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / pathology
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology
  • Choice Behavior / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / complications*
  • Impulsive Behavior / metabolism
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects*
  • Reward
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol