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Psychiatry Res. 1998 Nov 16;81(2):149-55.

Impulse-control disorders in alcoholics are related to sensation seeking and not to impulsivity.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Groupe Hospitalier Bichat-Claude Bernard, Paris, France.


Impulse-control disorders (ICD) include intermittent explosive disorder, kleptomania, trichotillomania, pyromania and pathological gambling. Several studies have suggested that the incidence of pathological gambling and impulsive violent behavior is substantially higher in alcohol-dependent patients than in the general population. The association between ICD and alcoholism, as well as personality characteristics such as sensation seeking and impulsivity, has never been systematically studied. The present study compared the levels of impulsivity and sensation seeking in age- and sex-matched groups of alcohol-dependent patients with concomitant ICD (ICD+, n = 30), alcohol-dependent patients without ICD (ICD-; n = 30) and control subjects (n = 30). All the alcohol-dependent patients (ICD+ and ICD-) were hospitalized for alcohol detoxification. Diagnoses of ICD were based on DSM-IV criteria and the Minnesota Impulsive Disorders Interview. All patients completed the Zuckerman Sensation-Seeking Scale (SSS) and the Barratt Impulsiveness Rating Scale (BIS). Mean scores on the SSS general factor, the SSS disinhibition subscale, and the SSS experience-seeking scale were significantly higher in ICD+ patients than in either ICD- patients or control subjects. By contrast, total scores and subscale scores on the BIS showed no significant differences among the three groups. Thus, it appears that measures of sensation seeking, rather than impulsivity, are relevant in distinguishing between alcohol-dependent patients with and without concomitant impulse control disorders.

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