Impulsivity and Medical Care Utilization in Veterans Treated for Substance Use Disorder

James M. Bjork, Jarrod Reisweber, Jason R. Burchett, Paul E. Plonski, Anna B. Konova, Silvia Lopez-Guzman, Clara E. Dismuke-Greer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Impulsivity has been defined by acting rashly during positive mood states (positive urgency; PU) or negative mood states (negative urgency; NU) and by excessive de-valuation of deferred rewards. These behaviors reflect a “live in the now” mentality that is not only characteristic of many individuals with severe substance use disorder (SUD) but also impedes medical treatment compliance and could result in repeated hospitalizations or other poor health outcomes. Purpose/objectives: We sought preliminary evidence that impulsivity may relate to adverse health outcomes in the veteran population. Impulsivity measured in 90 veterans receiving inpatient or outpatient SUD care at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center was related to histories of inpatient/residential care costs, based on VA Health Economics Resource Center data. Results: We found that positive urgency, lack of persistence and lack of premeditation, but not sensation-seeking or preference for immediate or risky rewards, were significantly higher in veterans with a history of one or more admissions for VA-based inpatient or residential health care that either included (n = 30) or did not include (n = 29) an admission for SUD care. Among veterans with a history of inpatient/residential care for SUD, NU and PU, but not decision-making behavior, correlated with SUD care-related costs. Conclusions/Importance: In veterans receiving SUD care, questionnaire-assessed trait impulsivity (but not decision-making) related to greater care utilization within the VA system. This suggests that veterans with high impulsivity are at greater risk for adverse health outcomes, such that expansion of cognitive interventions to reduce impulsivity may improve their health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1741-1751
Number of pages11
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jul 31 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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