Impulsivity differences in recreational cannabis users and binge drinkers in a university population

Margarita Moreno, Angeles F Estevez, Flor Zaldivar, Jose Manuel García Montes, Valeria E Gutiérrez-Ferre, Laura Esteban, Fernando Sánchez-Santed, Pilar Flores
Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2012 August 1, 124 (3): 355-62

BACKGROUND: Recreational cannabis use and alcohol binge drinking are the most common drug consumption patterns in young adults. Impulsivity and several psychopathological signs are increased in chronic drug users, but the implications of recreational use are still poorly understood.

METHODS: We evaluated impulsivity, sensation-seeking traits, impulsive decision-making, inhibitory control and possible symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychosis in three groups of young university adults: recreational cannabis users (N=20), alcohol binge drinkers (N=22) and non-drug users (N=26).

RESULTS: The cannabis and binge drinking groups had increased scores for impulsivity and sensation-seeking traits. Both groups also exhibited increased impulsive decision-making on the two-choice task and the Iowa gambling task; however, only the cannabis group was significantly different from the non-drug group regarding inhibitory control (go/no-go and stop tasks). The cannabis and binge drinking groups did not show differences in the psychopathological symptoms evaluated.

CONCLUSIONS: Our observations of this population of non-dependent drug users are consistent with the increased impulsivity traits and behaviors that have been described previously in chronic drug abusers. In this study, compared to no drug use, the recreational use of cannabis was associated with a major dysfunction of the different facets of impulsive behaviors. However, alcohol binge drinking was related only to impulsive decision-making. These results suggest that impulsivity traits and behaviors are present not only in chronic drug abusers but also in recreational drug users. Future work should continue to investigate the long-term effects of these common consumption patterns on various impulsive behaviors and psychopathological symptoms.

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