Impulsivity as a determinant and consequence of drug use: a review of underlying processes


Harriet de Wit, MC3077, 5841 S. Maryland Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, USA. E-mail:


Impulsive behaviors are closely linked to drug use and abuse, both as contributors to use and as consequences of use. Trait impulsivity is an important determinant of drug use during development, and in adults momentary ‘state’ increases in impulsive behavior may increase the likelihood of drug use, especially in individuals attempting to abstain. Conversely, acute and chronic effects of drug use may increase impulsive behaviors, which may in turn facilitate further drug use. However, these effects depend on the behavioral measure used to assess impulsivity. This article reviews data from controlled studies investigating different measures of impulsive behaviors, including delay discounting, behavioral inhibition and a newly proposed measure of inattention. Our findings support the hypothesis that drugs of abuse alter performance across independent behavioral measures of impulsivity. The findings lay the groundwork for studying the cognitive and neurobiological substrates of impulsivity, and for future studies on the role of impulsive behavior as both facilitator and a result of drug use.