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Keywords:

  • Impulsivity;
  • Substance Misuse;
  • Alcohol;
  • Pathological Gambling

Alcohol misuse and dependence, and many of its accompanying psychological problems, are associated with heightened levels of impulsivity that both accelerate the development of clinically significant illness and complicate clinical outcome. This article reviews recent developments in our understanding of impulsivity as they relate to brain circuitry that might underlie these comorbid factors, focusing upon the clinical features of substance use (and dependence), bipolar disorder, and pathological gambling. Individuals who are affected by these disorders exhibit problems in several domains of impulsive behavior including deficient response or “motor” control, and the tolerance of prolonged delays prior to larger rewards at the expense of smaller rewards (“delay-discounting”). These populations, like alcoholic dependents, also exhibit impairments in risky decision-making that may reflect dysfunction of monoamine and catecholamine pathways. However, several areas of uncertainty exist including the specificity of impairments across disorders and the relationship between impulse control problems and altered evaluation of reward outcomes underlying observed impairments in action selection.