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Reduced frontal-lobe activity and impulsivity may be linked to alcoholism risk

Increased impulsivity, or a lack of impulse control, is a key characteristic of many psychiatric disorders, including alcohol dependence. Recent studies suggest that increased impulsivity is involved in a predisposition to developing these disorders. A new study of brain processes provides support for this theory.

Results are published in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Altered impulsivity is a prominent manifestation in many disinhibitory psychiatric disorders, such as alcohol- or substance-related disorders, conduct disorder, attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), antisocial personality disorder (ASP), bipolar disorder, impulse control disorders, and so on," said Bernice Porjesz, professor and director of the Henri Begleiter Neurodynamics Laboratory at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. "Individuals suffering with these disorders may frequently and unpredictably act without planning in advance or without regard to the negative consequences of their behaviors, which in turn can result in serious aftermath. In severe cases, it may lead to danger to the patient or to others."

Porjesz added that the majority of psychiatric diseases are "complex diseases," meaning that their development is influenced by an underlying biological susceptibility of genetic factors, environmental factors, and interactions among multiple genes and the environment.

"Disinhibitory disorders share many similar clinical presentations as well as similar neurobiological abnormalities such as brain waves," said Porjesz. "This suggests that this group of disorders may have some underlying genetic vulnerabilities in common that contribute to the disorders. One recent study of genetic and environmental contributions to internalizing and externalizing disorders determined that the single most important factor underlying externalizing disorders is a genetic liability involving impulse control."

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