Impulse Control

A group of teenagers smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.

A growing research literature has indicated that impulse control is an important factor in the development, maintenance and treatment of addictive disorders.

Principal Investigator: Rebecca Houston at RIA

Co-investigator: Gregory G. Homish, PhD

Funding Agency: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Period: 7/2012-6/2014

Abstract: Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) represent a major societal concern in terms of physical and psychological well-being as well as economic cost. Although recent research efforts have focused on mechanisms that account for the behavioral changes associated with successful treatment approaches for AUDs, future research must focus on novel ways to capitalize on these mechanisms. A growing research literature has indicated that level of impulse control is an important factor in the development, maintenance, and treatment of addictive disorder. Our own research suggests that impulse control may serve as an important mechanism of change in the treatment of AUDs, with preliminary findings indicating significant associations between multiple aspects of impulse control and drinking during and after treatment.
The next step in this line of research is to experimentally manipulate this potential mediator (i.e., impulse control) in the context of alcoholism treatment. Based on the extant literature, we believe heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback to be a promising approach for influencing impulse control in the treatment context. A substantial literature exists on the benefits of increased HRV as well as HRV biofeedback in the context of a variety of medical and psychological conditions (e.g., asthma, depression, anxiety). It has also been suggested that HRV may serve as an index of self-regulation. For example, low HRV is typically associated with poor regulatory capacity and has been demonstrated in AUDs and other disorders typically characterized by a lack of impulse control. However, direct links between HRV and measures of impulse control have not been empirically and systematically examined.
The present application represents the first step in an innovative line of research designed to focally enhance impulse control via HRV training in the context of treatment for alcohol dependence. The aims of this application are to better delineate the relation between HRV and impulse control in alcohol-dependent men and women and to provide preliminary/feasibility data for a future Stage I investigation of HRV training as an adjunct to alcohol dependence treatment. Participants will be 30 men and women in residential treatment for alcohol dependence. Impulse control will be assessed using self-report and behavioral measures taking into account the multi-dimensional nature of the impulsivity construct. Results from this study will significantly advance our understanding of impulse control and its relation to HRV and will inform the development of subsequent avenues of investigation concerning mechanisms of change in the treatment of AUDs.