Contextual Influences on Impulsivity and Associations with Alcohol Use
Thimm, Kristine Ann
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Impulsivity is a central risk factor for multiple types of psychopathology including substance abuse. However, research has primarily focused on trait impulsivity as a marker for who may be most at risk, and less is understood about whether or not impulsivity may also represent a causal mechanism of use. Individuals regularly deviate from their average level of impulsivity, and research suggests that this variability is predictable and stable. Furthermore, these deviations may be contingent on situation cues and may reflect individual differences in sensitivity to context. Contextual factors, including mood, stress, and peers, have all been shown to be associated with changes in state impulsivity and may also increase the likelihood of substance use. It is less clear, however, how changes in impulsivity may contribute to the association between context and substance use. Understanding individual differences in within-person variability in impulsive behavior in response to changing context may broaden our understanding of how impulsivity confers risk for substance abuse. The current study explored how contextual factors influence within-person fluctuations in impulsivity and how this variability may be associated with alcohol use. 160 self-reported drinkers between the ages of 21-36 completed baseline assessments and ten days of ecological momentary assessments. Facets of impulsivity was measured using the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale, and past year alcohol use and problems were measured using the Substance Use Questionnaire (SUQ). Participants also completed a state adaptation of the UPPS-P as well as ratings of stress, stimulation, sedation, and peer presence up to six times each day. Participants also reported the number of alcoholic drinks consumed daily. Within-person effects were tested using hierarchical linear models. Models predicting past year drinking behavior were tested using regression. Mediated models predicting daily drinking were tested using general estimating equations accounting for clustering. Results suggested that there was significant within-person variability in all facets of impulsivity. Only variability in cognitive facets of impulsivity (lack of premeditation and lack of perseverance) was predictive of past year drunkenness and binge drinking. There was no evidence that variability in any facet of impulsivity was associated with past year alcohol problems. Stimulation, sedation, stress, and peer presence were associated with state changes in facets of impulsivity, although the effects differed across facets. Lack of premeditation was found to mediate the association between stress and sedation and the likelihood of drinking on a given day, however no other indirect effects were found. Finally, there was some evidence that participants who reported heavier alcohol use and more alcohol problems also demonstrated stronger associations between contextual factors and changes in state impulsivity. These findings highlight the importance of considering within-person variability in trait-related behavior and the corresponding situational factors associated with deviations from mean levels of behavior. Identifying who demonstrates the greatest variability and the greatest reactivity to context may provide further insight into identifying who is at greatest risk of developing problematic or harmful levels of substance use. Additionally, exploring individual differences in the associations between context and changes in state impulsivity may provide information for when individuals are most likely to engage in alcohol use as well as factors that may increase their risk of use.
- Psychology