Posted on November 21, 2011

Gene Variants May Factor into Impulsivity, Substance Abuse

Rick Nauert, Psych Central, November 17, 2011

Researchers believe genetics can influence impulsivity and other forms of risky behavior, especially among males–a link supported by a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Dr. Scott Stoltenberg, an assistant professor in the Psychology Department, found links between impulsivity and a rarely researched gene called NRXN3. The gene plays an important role in brain development and in how neurons function.

The newly discovered connection, which was more prevalent among men than women in the study, may help explain certain inclinations toward alcohol or drug dependence, Stoltenberg said.


During the investigation, researchers measured impulsivity levels in nearly 450 participants–65 percent women, 35 percent men. They then compared the findings with DNA samples from each participant.

Researchers discovered impulsivity was significantly higher in those who regularly used tobacco or who had alcohol or drug problems. They also discovered that gender played a role.

In men, two connections clearly emerged; first, between a particular form of the NRXN3 gene and attentional impulsivity, and second, between another NRXN3 variant and alcohol problems.

The connections for women, meanwhile, were much weaker.


However, researchers were careful to point out that this is not a perfect cause-and-effect relationship. That is, impulsivity alone may not cause substance abuse. However, impulsivity may interact with sensitivity to alcohol, for one example, or anxiety, for another, to create complex pathways to substance use problems in both men and women.