Impulsigenic personality traits: From the impulsive to the compulsive

Sarah J. Peterson, Gregory T. Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Most individuals decrease their drinking or “mature out” of problematic alcohol use following the college years into early adulthood (Jochman & Fromme, 2010). However, it is evident that a proportion of the population does not, instead persisting in problematic patterns of drinking behavior (Jackson, Sher, Gotham, and Wood, 2001). Previous research and theory has cited social and role transitions that occur during this time to explain such stability and change in drinking patterns (e.g., Bachman et al., 2002). Others have highlighted more complex processes involving changes in rates of new onset and recurrence versus rates of desistance (Verges et al., 2012). We propose a developmental theory of persistence in problematic alcohol consumption that emanates from impulsigenic personality traits that differentially predispose individuals to drink when highly emotional. These patterns of behavior are reinforced over time and gradually shift from impulsive to compulsive, first to escape negative emotions, then to avoid them completely. This maladaptive style of coping is likely masked during the college years, due to a widespread and normative culture of drinking (Sher, Bartholow, & Nanda, 2001; Slutske, 2005). For some, more adaptive methods of coping are not adequately developed. These individuals may transition into early adulthood far less equipped to cope with the stress related to this developmental period, and thus continue to drink in ways that are problematic and potentially harmful. This theory has many clinical and public health implications. First, we may be able to identify individuals who are likely to persist and those who are not at a time when their drinking behaviors are largely the same. Further, the model provides direct opportunities for targeted intervention to prevent or moderate continued problematic drinking patterns into adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnderstanding Impulsive Behavior
Subtitle of host publicationAssessment, Influences and Gender Differences
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9781536138160
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by Nova Science Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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