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Behavioural aspects of impulsivity in alcoholics with and without a cluster-B personality disorder

Geert Dom, Bieke De Wilde, Wouter Hulstijn, Wim van den Brink, Bernard Sabbe
Alcohol and Alcoholism 2006, 41 (4): 412-20
16782972

AIMS: Studies have shown that alcoholics with a cluster-B personality disorder (cluster-B PD) are characterized by high levels of impulsivity. However, impulsivity has mainly been studied as a broad concept without its different aspects being considered. The present study compared abstinent alcoholic inpatients without any personality disorder (PD) and abstinent alcoholics with cluster-B PD on different aspects of impulsivity, i.e. self-reported impulsivity and neuropsychological indicators such as behavioural control and delay of gratification.

METHODS: Forty alcohol-dependent inpatients without PD and 22 alcohol-dependent inpatients with a cluster-B PD were compared on two self-report impulsivity questionnaires (Barratt impulsiveness scale; sensation-seeking scales) and three behavioural impulsivity tasks [Go/No-Go task; delay discounting task (DDT); Stroop colour word test]. Tests were administered after stable abstinence of at least 3 weeks.

RESULTS: Self-report measures of impulsivity were higher in cluster-B alcoholics than in alcoholics without PD. Behavioural tasks revealed a more differentiated pattern of impairments. On the Go/No-Go task, cluster-B alcoholics were impaired in inhibitory control but not in reaction time compared with alcoholics without PD. In contrast, no significant differences on the DDT and the Stroop were observed.

CONCLUSION: Alcohol-dependent patients with and without a cluster-B PD differ in terms of behavioural inhibition but not in terms of activation or the ability to delay gratification. This finding may partly account for their impulsive and (self-) destructive behaviours. Treatment planning should pay specific attention to these impairments in behavioural control.

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