Impulsivity in Problem Gamblers and Alcohol-Dependent Persons

Research has found both problem gamblers and alcohol-dependent persons to display impairments in risky decision-making and cognitive impulsivity. More specifically, both were found to share "deficits in tasks linked to ventral prefontal cortical dysfunction."

The findings, reported in the scientific journal Addiction, are consistent with other research studies that have found that that pre-schoolers who display behavioral impulsivity are more likely to become problem drinkers later in life.

Early onset of drinking and later problem drinking both appear to be caused by impulsivity and similar personality factors that preceded them.


  • Lawrence, Andrew J. et al. Problem gamblers share deficits in impulsive decision-making with alcohol-dependent individuals. Addiction, 2009, 104(6),1006-1015.


  • Costello, J., Erkanli, A., Federman, E., & Angold, A. Development of psychiatric comorbidity with substance abuse in adolescents: Effects of timing and sex. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 1999, 28, 298-311. Found that early disruptive behaviors (e.g., conduct disorder) are related to later substance use and abuse, and that the onset of disruptive behaviors often occurs prior to alcohol use initiation.
  • Dick, D. M., and Foroud, T. Candidate genes for alcohol dependence: A Review of genetic evidence from human studies. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 2003, 27(5), 868-879.
  • Dougherty, D. M., et al. Age at first drink relates to behavioral measures of impulsivity: The immediate and delayed memory tasks. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 2004, 28(3), 408-414.
  • Justus, Alicia N., et al. Disinhibited personality and early-onset alcohol problems. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 2001, 25(10), 1457-1466.
  • Kono, Y. et al. Association between early–onset alcoholism and the dopamine D2 receptor gene. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics), 1997, 74(2): 179–182.
  • McGue, M., Iacono, W.G., Legrand, L.N., Malone, S., & Elkins, I. Origins and consequences of age at first drink. I. Associations with substance-use disorders, disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology, and p3 amplitude. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2001, 25, 1156-1165. The authors found that "AFD (age at first drink) is not specifically associated with alcoholism but rather is correlated with a broad range of indicators of disinhibited behavior and psychopathology. Moreover, individuals who first drink at a relatively early age manifest elevated rates of disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology before they first try alcohol. Taken together, these findings suggest that the association of AFD with alcoholism reflects, at least in part, a common underlying vulnerability to disinhibitory behavior. Whether an early AFD directly influences risk of adult alcoholism remains unclear." They also report that "problems seen in adulthood among early drinkers existed prior to their taking that first drink, which suggests that developmental processes were already disrupted prior to that first drink. Thus, an early AFD is more likely a 'symptom' of an underlying vulnerability of disinhibitory processes rather than a 'cause' of increased rates of alcoholism"
  • McGue, M., Iacono, W.G., Legrand, L.N., & Elkins, I. Origins and consequences of age at first drink. II. Familial risk and heritability. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2001, 25, 1166-1173. Reported that early onset of alcohol use may reflect a vulnerability to disinhibitory behavior and that that several indicators of disinhibitory behavior preceded age of onset.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol Alert, #59, April, 2003.
  • Prescott, C.A., & Kendler, K.S. Age of first drink and risk for alcoholism: A noncausal association. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 1999, 23,101-107. The researchers found that age at first drink is not causally associated with alcoholism but is associated with a wide range of indicators of disinhibited behavior and psychopathology. Individuals who first drank at an early age exhibited high rates of disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology before they first try alcohol. (In spite of its title, this report examines alcohol problems in addition to alcoholism.)
  • Virkkunen, M., and Linnoila, M. Serotonin in early–onset alcoholism. In: Galanter, M., ed. Recent Developments in Alcoholism. Vol 13: Alcohol and Violence. New York: Plenum Press, 1997. pp. 173–189.
  • Wong, P. M., et al. Behavioral control and resiliency in the onset of alcohol and illicit drug use: A prospective study from preschool to adolescence. Child Development, 2006, 77(4), 1016-1033.