Heightened Impulsivity: Associated with Family History of Alcohol Misuse, and a Consequence of Alcohol Intake

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Oct;40(10):2208-2217. doi: 10.1111/acer.13184. Epub 2016 Aug 26.


Background: Youths with family history (FH) of alcoholism are at greater risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD); heightened impulsive behavior may underlie such increased vulnerability. Here, we studied waiting impulsivity (previously suggested to predispose to alcohol drinking) in young moderate-to-heavy social drinkers (18 to 33 years old) characterized as family history positive (FHP) and negative (FHN) following an alcoholic or nonalcoholic (placebo) drink.

Methods: Two groups of young male and female social drinkers (n = 64) were administered an acute dose of alcohol (0.8 g/kg) or placebo. One group (FHP; n = 24) had first-degree relatives with problems of alcohol misuse; the other group (FHN) did not. Participants completed 4 variants of the Sx-5CSRTT, a task measuring waiting impulsivity. In addition, other types of impulsive behavior were tested (by means of the stop-signal task [SST]; information sampling task [IST]; Delay Discounting Questionnaire; 2-choice impulsivity paradigm; and time estimation task).

Results: Young FHP adults showed more premature responding than FHN when evaluated under increased attentional load (high waiting impulsivity), while, in contrast, they presented a more conservative strategy on the IST (less impulsive behavior), compared to FHN. Acute alcohol impaired inhibitory control on the SST in all participants, and induced a marginal increase of premature responses, but did not affect other measures of impulsivity.

Conclusions: Assessing for exaggerated waiting impulsivity may provide a potential endophenotype associated with risk for the development of alcohol addiction (i.e., offspring of alcoholics).

Keywords: Alcohol; Binge Drinking; Family History of Alcoholism; Impulsivity; Social Drinkers.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Endophenotypes
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Young Adult