Startle-Response Based Tasks and Laboratory Measures of Impulsivity in Abstinent Alcoholic Patients

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Abstract

Aims: It is well known that impulsivity is a risk factor for the development of Addictive Disorders, and more specifically Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD). Recently, the Startle-Response Based Tasks (SRBT) and its different forms of plasticity have been found to be impaired in the alcoholic population. This is the first study to explore the correlation between impulsivity laboratory tasks and the SRBT test, in order to determine whether impulsivity and startle response (SR) could be related and in turn, explain their association with Alcohol Dependence (AD).

Methods: Subjects: 40 men, who met DSM-IV criteria for AD and had been abstinent for at least one month. Impulsivity was assessed using three laboratory tests: Continuous Performance Test (CPT), Stop-Signal Task (SST) and Differential Reinforcement for Low-Rate Responding (DRL6). Patients also underwent the SR test. They were compared to 40 matched controls.

Results: Impulsivity laboratory measures tasks (SST and commissions of the CPT) correlated positively with the magnitude of SR (P < 0.05) and with habituation (P < 0.05). Scores on DRL6 correlated negatively with the magnitude of SR (P < 0.05). This was not found in the control group.

Conclusions: The fact that impulsivity laboratory measures and the SR are correlated in patients but not in controls, could imply the existence of a common link for these two measures in alcoholic patients. Our findings support the hypothesis of the existence of two different vulnerability pathways for the development of AUD: anxiety and disinhibitory behaviour.

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