Working Memory, Impulsivity, and Alcohol Problems

Research on alcohol dependency and addiction has revealed that alcohol misuse (AUD) and other risky behaviors are influenced by several factors, including reduced working memory capacity (WMC) and impulsivity. But how these are all related is unclear. For instance, does diminished WMC lead to AUD which in turn increases impulsivity? Or does WMC elevate impulsivity which then influences risk for AUD? In an attempt to better clarify this relationship, Rachel L. Gunn and Peter R. Finn of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University in Indiana recently conducted a study testing the correlation between WMC, impulsivity, and AUD in a sample of 474 young adults with varying degrees of alcohol problems.

The study revealed that all three factors of WMC, AUD, and impulsivity were all robustly associated. The analysis suggested that individuals with lower WMC may have higher levels of impulsivity than those with high WMC, evidenced by poor decision making despite previous outcomes. In other words, even though some individuals may be well aware of the negative consequences of their prior decision related to risk taking behavior, they may still choose to make the same impulsive, rash decisions because of impaired WMC. This may increase their vulnerability to AUDs and other negative outcomes related to risky activities. In this study, Gunn and Finn also found that the more impulsive the participants were, the more severe the symptoms of AUD.

The authors also theorize that a bidirectional relationship may exist between AUD and WMC. Chronic use of alcohol may impair cognitive resources and lead to erosion of WMC, which can than increase impulsivity and further risk taking. Overall, these results clearly demonstrate that diminished WMC increases impulsivity and vulnerability to AUDs. The authors hope that future work addresses this relationship in a more diversely aged sample of participants. They added, “Different patterns of association between WMC, impulsivity, and alcohol problems may be present in late childhood, earlier adolescence, or middle age.”

Reference:
Gunn, Rachel L., and Peter R. Finn. (2013). Impulsivity partially mediates the association between reduced working memory capacity and alcohol problems. Alcohol 47.1 (2013): 3-8. ProQuest. Web.

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  • harry

    harry

    April 3rd, 2013 at 10:52 PM

    this is bad!so these these people are stuck in an endless loop where they make poor decisions,become alcohol dependent (which can lead to a whole lot of problems by itself) and all this relays and again and again!especially bad considering it is true for growing adults,for growing minds!

  • dell

    dell

    April 4th, 2013 at 4:12 AM

    One of the most pervasive problems that I see with alcohol abuse is that there are still so many people who fai to see the dangers in drinking. I know that it’s fine to have a glass of wine or a couple of beers every now and then. I don’t have a problem with that. But there is a clear problem with daily drinking and abuse of acohol, and this not only changes how you relate to your friends and family but it could have serious impact on your job performance as well. Few young people when they take their first drinks are thinking about the future dangers that drinking can impose. But parents need to be talking to their children about this issue because clearly it can have a huge impact on your for your entire life, which is not really what you are typically thinking about the first time you sneak and drink.

  • Serena D

    Serena D

    April 4th, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Let’s just put this bluntly:
    no one ever thinks that having an addiction to alcohol is going to do anything to get you ahead in life

  • pablo

    pablo

    April 4th, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    so what would happen if there was never anything like alcohol? people would probably make mistakes, act on impulsivity but things would have a limit at least. alcohol is by far the worst thing known to man that he has created for himself (well cigarettes can be an entire discussion in itself) .

    what if alcohol is done away with? sometimes I day dream what the world would be without alcohol. do we really need to get ‘high’ to have a nice time?a ‘high’ that leaves you feeling very low for much longer than you were actually high!

    think about it, and make others around you think about it too. and then see how wonderful things can be. so many disorders will go down in severity, how many families can be happy again and most importantly how many people can really get their life back. lives that are now lost in the abyss of alcohol.

  • Lucille

    Lucille

    April 5th, 2013 at 4:08 AM

    The problem is not the alcohol, only that there are those who cannot handle their drink and really shouldn’t take it up to begin with. But how do we really know who these people are until they take that step and then expose this as their fatal flaw?

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