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Research reveals that recreational drug use is related to impulsive behaviour

02 December 2009 Andalucía Innova

A group of psychologists from the University of Almeria, lead by Dr. Pilar Flores and Flor Zaldívar have just concluded a study regarding the use of addictive substances by young university students and the manifestation of impulsive behaviour in the same group of people, on a cognitive and psychomotor level. According to the data produced by this project, regular consumers of cannabis and alcohol are more impulsive than non-users. However, there is no evidence of the differences between both of these consumer groups, which makes these experts believe that "consuming these substances, whatever their nature, is related to impulsivity".

This study, which began in October 2006, was promoted by the Department for Equal Opportunities and Social Welfare with a total financing of 30,061 Euros.

In an attempt to discover if recreational use of these substances - alcohol and cannabis – affects the youth's impulsivity, this behaviour was measured in three categories: motor impulsivity, cognitive impulsivity and unplanned impulsivity. To achieve this goal a population sample was taken of a total of 575 students, 50,7% were women and 49,3% were men, who were assigned to three groups depending on their drug use habits.

They observed, in the first samplings, that 21,4% corresponds to the chronic cannabis users’ category, 32,5% drink alcohol, and the remaining 34,6% do not consume any type of drugs. Moreover, it seems that gender influences consumption patterns, since 62,5% of the male population sample are usual consumers of one of these substances versus 45,6% of the women. Similarly, men consume higher amounts of both substances.

The results show significant behaviour differences depending on the analysed groups. Cognitive impulsivity may be defined as the subject’s tendency to give quick responses, especially in tasks that implicitly or explicitly imply uncertain responses, and therefore, they make more mistakes.

As regards to the analysis of the data obtained in the laboratory tests that measure this type of impulsivity, the student groups that consumed addictive substances showed more impulsive behaviour than nonusers. However, this pattern changes when one takes into account motor tasks, where this correlation has only been proven in the case of cannabis users. Motor Impulsivity, implies acting without thinking and being driven by the momentum.

In conclusion, these experts explain “it is undeniable that university students regularly consume addictive substances. On the other hand, it seems clear that there is a relationship between drug use and impulsive behaviour although we still have to clarify whether this attitude is a cause or a result of drug use".

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