Background: Higher levels of impulsivity have been implicated in the development of alcohol use disorders. Recent findings suggest that impulsivity is not a unitary construct, highlighted by the diverse ways in which the various measures of impulsivity relate to alcohol use outcomes. This study simultaneously tested the following dimensions of impulsivity as determinants of alcohol use and alcohol problems: risky decision making, self-reported risk-attitudes, response inhibition, and impulsive decision making.
Methods: Participants were a community sample of nontreatment seeking problem drinkers (n = 158). Structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses employed behavioral measures of impulsive decision making (delay discounting task [DDT]), response inhibition (stop signal task [SST]), and risky decision making (Balloon Analogue Risk Task [BART]), and a self-report measure of risk-attitudes (domain-specific risk-attitude scale [DOSPERT]), as predictors of alcohol use and of alcohol-related problems in this sample.
Results: The model fits well, accounting for 38% of the variance in alcohol problems, and identified 2 impulsivity dimensions that significantly loaded onto alcohol outcomes: (i) impulsive decision making, indexed by the DDT; and (ii) risky decision making, measured by the BART.
Conclusions: The impulsive decision-making dimension of impulsivity, indexed by the DDT, was the strongest predictor of alcohol use and alcohol pathology in this sample of problem drinkers. Unexpectedly, a negative relationship was found between risky decision making and alcohol problems. The results highlight the importance of considering the distinct facets of impulsivity to elucidate their individual and combined effects on alcohol use initiation, escalation, and dependence.