Cigarette smoking status in pathological gamblers: Association with impulsivity and cognitive flexibility


BACKGROUND While the majority of pathological gamblers are current cigarette smokers (CS), some have quit smoking (former smokers, FS) while others never smoked (never smokers, NS). The reasons for elevated smoking rates in pathological gambling are not known, but gamblers may use nicotine as a putative cognitive enhancer. This study evaluated impulsivity and cognitive flexibility in a sample of pathological gamblers with differing smoking status. METHODS Fifty-five subjects with pathological gambling (CS, n=34; FS, n=10; NS, n=11) underwent cognitive assessments using the Stop-Signal (SST) and Intradimensional/Extra-dimensional (ID/ED) set-shift tasks. RESULTS CS reported less severe gambling problems than either FS or NS on the Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale modified for Pathological Gambling, and CS was associated with significantly fewer directional errors on the SST task, compared to NS. In addition, in CS, higher daily cigarette consumption was associated with fewer total errors on the ID/ED task. CONCLUSIONS The potential role of nicotine as a cognitive enhancer was supported by objective tests of impulsivity and cognitive flexibility. Human laboratory studies using nicotine challenges in pathological gambling will shed further light on this relationship.

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