Maladaptive decision making and substance use outcomes in high-risk individuals: Preliminary evidence for the role of 5-HTTLPR variation


Objective: Individuals with multiple alcohol-dependent (AD) relatives are at increased risk for substance use disorders (SUDs). Prospective, longitudinal studies of high-risk (HR) individuals afford the opportunity to determine potential risk markers of SUDs. The current study assessed the effect of familial risk and genetic variation on Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) performance and tested for an association between IGT performance and SUD outcomes. Method: Individuals from multiplex AD families (n = 63) and low-risk (LR; n = 45) control families, ages 16-34 years, were tested using a computerized version of the IGT. SUD outcomes were assessed at approximately yearly intervals. 5-HTTLPR and COMT genotypes were available for the majority of participants (n = 86). Results: HR offspring showed poorer performance overall on the IGT and especially poor performance on the final trial block (Block 5), indicating a failure to improve decision making with previous experience. The 5-HTTLPR short-allele homozygote participants performed worse than long-allele carriers, with HR S/S carriers exhibiting particularly poor performance. There was no main effect of COMT on IGT performance and no significant COMT by Risk interaction. Significantly more individuals in the HR than LR group met criteria for SUD. Importantly, disadvantageous performance on IGT Block 5 was significantly associated with an earlier age at SUD onset. Conclusions: This is the first study to show that both familial risk of SUD and 5-HTTLPR variation impact performance on the IGT. Poorer IGT performance was associated with earlier onset of SUD, suggesting that HR individuals who fail to appropriately attend to long-term costs and benefits during a decision-making task are especially at risk for developing SUD in adolescence and young adulthood.

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