Supportive relationships may protect us from consequences of impulsivity

What do the Beatles tune “With A Little Help From My friends,” kamikazes (the drinks not the warriors), and an unexpected trip to a cemetery have in common?

Well, almost nothing except that alcohol and impulsivity are a dangerous mix and people with current drinking problems and poor impulse control are more likely to die in the next 15 years, according to researchers at the Center for Health Care Evaluation of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Supportive-Relationships-Brain-Training-Centers-FloridaThe study, which appears online and in the November 2011 issue of the journal Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research, indicates that alcohol abusers with poor impulse control could get by with a little help from their friends and a strong social support network may buffer the toxic effects of impulsivity.

While alcohol misuse has long been associated with increased risk of premature death, impulsivity – excessive risk-taking, disregard of consequences and poor self-control – has been shown to affect life expectancy regardless of drinking habits.

Lead author Daniel Blonigen, PhD. And his team tested 515 people when they first sought help for drinking problems and again one year later, and then followed them for another 15 years. During this period, 93 individuals died and those who scored high on a measure of impulsivity a year after seeking help for their drinking problems were more likely to die in the following years. These results also held true even after researchers took factors like drinking severity and existing physical health problems into account.

Although the research did not explain why impulsivity compounds the risk of alcohol misuse, “Based on past research, impulsivity is related to a wide range of health risk behaviors [besides heavy alcohol consumption], like smoking, drug use, dangerous driving and risky sexual activities,” Blonigen reported. Impulsive behavior can also increase exposure to stressful situations, with a negative physiological impart.

However, the study found that individuals who reported strong supportive relationships with peers and friends may be somewhat protected from the consequences of their impulsivity – and less likely to die than those who lacked those social resources.

“One of the great lessons to be drawn from this research is that individuals with histories of risk taking and alcohol or drug abuse really benefit from support groups like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous,” observed Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy.D., founder of the Brain Training Centers of Florida. “This new research indicates that when clients take active participation in a Twelve Step program as a serious and critical adjunct to any other form of substance abuse therapy, it may have the additional benefit of adding years to their lives in recovery,” said Flynn.

Posted in: Addiction

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