Author(s): Fein G, Klein L, Finn P
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Abstract BACKGROUND: Recent research indicates that currently active or recently detoxified substance abusers make more disadvantageous decisions on a simulated gambling task (SGT). This study expands on the current literature by using the SGT to examine decision making in long-term abstinent alcoholics (mean of 6.6 years' abstinence) who do not have antisocial personality disorder or a history of conduct disorder. METHODS: A total of 102 subjects (58 controls and 44 abstinent alcoholics) were tested on the SGT, in which subjects choose cards from 4 different decks that vary in terms of the magnitude of the immediate win (large or small) and the magnitude of long-term loss (large or small). The association of SGT performance with alcohol use variables, with the number of externalizing symptoms, and with personality measures of social deviance was examined. RESULTS: Compared with controls, long-term abstinent alcohol-dependent subjects had more externalizing symptoms, had personality profiles associated with a proneness to social deviance, and made more disadvantageous decisions on the SGT. The magnitude of disadvantageous decision making was associated with the duration of peak alcohol use but was associated with only one measure (low socialization) of socially deviant personality traits. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that alcoholics can achieve long-term abstinence despite persistent deficits in decision making and abnormal personality profiles. The decision-making deficits either may be the result of long-term alcoholism or may reflect a factor predisposing to alcoholism that persists with abstinence. The possibility is raised that alcoholics who cannot achieve long-term abstinence are even more impaired on their decision making and have more abnormal personality profiles than the abstinent alcoholics studied here.
This article was published in Alcohol Clin Exp Res
and referenced in Journal of Forensic Psychology