Personality Traits and Coping Compensate for Disadvantageous Decision-making in Long-term Alcohol Abstinence

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Aims: High relapse rate and extreme difficulty to maintain abstinence are core characteristics of alcohol dependence (AD). Previous studies have demonstrated a persistent decision-making (DM) deficit in AD. We aimed to reveal specific personality features and stress-coping mechanisms presumed to compensate for ineffective DM skills. Methods: Eighty-eight unmedicated patients with AD were enrolled. Intact general cognitive status was assured by IQ above 90. Forty-three patients had an average abstinence period of 12 weeks and were currently in an inpatient treatment program (short-term abstinence group, STA) and 45 patients were abstinent for at least 3 years (long-term abstinence group, LTA). The two groups were assessed using an integrative approach combining domains of DM, temperament and character dimensions and stress-coping measures. Results: Both groups performed at chance level with no linear improvement tendency on the gambling task assessing DM adequacy. The LTA group scored significantly higher on scales of self-directedness and cooperativeness. In contrast, levels of harm avoidance, emotion-oriented coping and perceived stress were significantly higher in the STA group. Conclusion: Our findings provide new evidence for a persistent DM deficit with no learning effect in AD. Despite the deficit, alcohol-dependent patients can achieve LTA. STA patients perceive higher levels of stress and use non-adaptive coping strategies. We propose that the more adaptive personality profile of LTA patients contributes to the compensation of the trait-like DM deficit in alcoholism. These compensatory features represent promising new targets for preventive measures and therapeutic interventions in AD.

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