Department of Psychiatry Medical University of Warsaw, Poland
Background: Physical pain and impulsivity are considered to be prevalent and significant factors that influence the course of alcohol dependence. The aim of the study was to investigate relationships between different dimensions of impulsivity and the current experience of physical pain in individuals entering alcohol treatment.
Method: A sample of 366 (73.5% men and 26.5% women) DSM-IV alcohol-dependent subjects was recruited in alcohol treatment centers in Poland. The study sample was divided into a “mild or no pain” group (65.6%) and a “moderate or greater pain” group (34.4%). Levels of impulsivity were measured by the stop-signal task as well as the total and subscale scores of the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11).
Results: The experience of physical pain was significantly associated with higher levels of impulsivity as measured by both total BIS scores and longer stop reaction times. Physical pain remained as independent correlate of behavioral impulsivity (stop reaction time) and the BIS subscale of attentional impulsivity while controlling for other variables. An additional analysis revealed that BIS scores were not associated with stop reaction times.
Conclusions: Physical pain is an independent correlate of both subjectively reported and objectively measured levels of impulsivity. Therapeutic interventions aimed at reducing pain in alcohol-dependent individuals should be studied to evaluate their impact on improving attention and behavioral control.