Youth with a family history of alcoholism are at increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder; this may be due to impulsive behavior.
Researchers examined "waiting" impulsivity - a tendency toward prematurely responding to a reward, and previously associated with a predisposition to drinking.
‘Assessing the levels of impulsivity in young people with a family history of alcoholics may help identify offspring who are at risk of developing alcohol addiction.’
The study included a sample comprising young, moderate-to-heavy social drinkers who were either positive (FHP) or negative (FHN) for a family history of alcoholism. The researchers assessed the impulsivity 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 for impulsivity.
The researchers also tested other types of impulsive behavior using 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 an 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 of developing alcohol addiction.