Impulsivity Levels Help Identify At-Risk Offspring of Alcoholics


Newswise — Researchers know that youth with a family history of alcoholism have a greater risk of developing an alcohol use disorder; this heightened vulnerability may be due to impulsive behavior. For this study, researchers examined “waiting” impulsivity – a tendency toward prematurely responding to a reward, and previously associated with a predisposition to drinking. The study sample comprised young, moderate-to-heavy social drinkers who were either positive (FHP) or negative (FHN) for a family history of alcoholism. Impulsivity was assessed after an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink.

Two groups of young male and female social drinkers (34 women, 30 men; 18-33 years old) were given alcohol (0.8g/kg) or a placebo. The FHP group (n= 24) had first-degree relatives with problems of alcohol misuse; the FHN group (n=40) did not. Participants completed four variants of the Five-Choice Serial Reaction Time task, which measures waiting impulsivity. Other types of impulsive behavior were also tested, using the Stop Signal Reaction Time, Information Sampling Task, Delay Discounting Questionnaire, Two-Choice Impulsivity Paradigm, and Time Estimation.

The FHP drinkers showed higher waiting impulsivity levels than FHN drinkers when tested for attentional load. However, the FHP group showed less impulsive behavior on the Information Sampling Task. All participants showed alcohol-impaired inhibitory control on the Stop Signal Reaction Time test. In summary, assessing exaggerated waiting impulsivity may help identify those offspring of alcoholics who are at risk for developing alcohol addiction.

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