Delay discounting differentiates pre-adolescents at high and low risk for substance use disorders based on family history

Donald M. Dougherty, Nora E. Charles, Charles W. Mathias, Stacy R Ryan, Rene L. Olvera, Yuanyuan Liang, Ashley Acheson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Youth with family histories of substance use disorders (FH+) are at increased risk for developing substance use disorders relative to those without such histories (FH-). FH+ individuals show deficits in impulse control that parallel those in individuals with substance use disorders. Elucidating how specific components of impulse control are affected in FH+ pre-adolescents would advance our understanding of how deficits in impulse control relate to risk of substance use disorders. Method: A total of 386 children (305 FH+, 81 FH-; ages 10-12) with no histories of regular alcohol or other drug use were compared on measures of delay discounting (Kirby), response inhibition (GoStop Impulsivity Paradigm), and response initiation impulsivity (Immediate Memory Task). The independent associations between these three behavioral measures of impulsivity and FH status were analyzed using logistic regression models. Result: FH+ pre-adolescents performed more impulsively on measures of delay discounting and response inhibition impulsivity, but there were no significant group differences on response initiation impulsivity. When the behavioral impulsivity measures were examined simultaneously, delay discounting was most robustly associated with FH status. Conclusions: These results identify deficits in impulse control present in FH+ pre-adolescents before the onset of regular substance use, and suggest that increased delay discounting may be an important behavioral phenotype for pre-adolescents at risk for substance use involvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-111
Number of pages7
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Family history of substance use disorders
  • Impulsivity
  • Pre-adolescent
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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