Abstract: Background: Impaired decision-making is one diagnostic characteristic of alcoholism. Quantifying decision-making with rapid and robust laboratory-based measures is thus desirable for the testing of novel treatments for alcoholism. Previous research has demonstrated the utility of delay discounting (DD) tasks for quantifying differences in decision-making in substance abusers and normal controls. In DD paradigms subjects choose between a small, immediate reward and a larger, delayed reward.
Methods: We used a novel computerized DD task to demonstrate that abstinent alcoholics (AA, n= 14) choose the larger, delayed option significantly less often than control subjects (n= 14; p < 0.02). This difference in choice tendency was independent of subject age, gender, years of education, or socio-economic status.
Results: All subjects discounted as a function of reward delay and amount, with alcoholics demonstrating steeper discounting curves for both variables. This tendency to discount delayed rewards was positively correlated with subjective reports of both alcohol addiction severity (Drug Use Screening Inventory-Revised, Domain 1, p < 0.01), and impulsivity (Barratt Impulsivity Scale-11, p < 0.004). Novel aspects of this new paradigm include an element of time pressure, an additional experimental condition that evaluated motor impulsivity by assessing the ability to inhibit a prepotent response, and another control condition to requiring nonsubjective choice.
Conclusions: Non-alcoholic controls and alcoholics did not differ on motor impulsivity or nonsubjective choice, suggesting that the differing choice behavior of the two groups was due mainly to differences in cognitive impulsivity.