Impaired Decision-Making, Higher Impulsivity, and Drug Severity in Substance Dependence and Pathological Gambling.
OBJECTIVES: Substance use disorder is characterized by impaired decision making, impulsivity, and risk taking. Pathological gambling shares many of these characteristics, and having both diagnoses may be associated with greater problems than either diagnosis alone. We investigated whether among substance-dependent individuals, comorbid pathological gambling would be associated with worse decision making, greater impulsivity, risk taking, and drug severity. METHODS: Ninety-six substance-dependent individuals were recruited from a residential treatment program and divided into 1 of the 2 groups depending on whether they met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, criteria for pathological gambling (SDPG, n = 26) or not (SD, n = 70). Ninety-two controls were recruited from the community. Participants completed a decision-making task (modified Iowa Gambling Task), measures of impulsivity (Barratt Impulsivity Scale and Delay Discounting), and risk taking (Balloon Analog Risk Task). Decision making was analyzed using a computational model. We tested for group differences using analysis of covariance or Kruskal-Wallis and appropriate post-hoc tests. RESULTS: The groups differed in decision-making parameters (P < 0.001) and self-reported impulsivity (P < 0.001). All post-hoc comparisons were significant on these measures, and indicated stepwise changes in controls, followed by SD, followed by SDPG, with SDPG performing worse on decision making and being more impulsive. Compared with SD, SDPG had greater drug severity (P < 0.001). No group differences were observed in delay discounting or risk taking. CONCLUSIONS: Compared with individuals with substance dependence without pathological gambling, those with both disorders demonstrated worse decision making and significantly more drug-related symptoms. When evaluating patients with substance dependence, clinicians should consider diagnostic assessments for gambling, as the co-occurrence of both disorders may impact clinical characteristics.