, Volume 233, Issue 1, pp 39–48 | Cite as

Interrelationships among parental family history of substance misuse, delay discounting, and personal substance use

  • Lauren VanderBroek
  • John Acker
  • Abraham A. Palmer
  • Harriet de Wit
  • James MacKillopEmail author
Original Investigation



Despite consistent evidence of the familiality of substance misuse, the mechanisms by which family history (FH) increases the risk of addiction are not well understood. One behavioral trait that may mediate the risk for substance use and addiction is delay discounting (DD), which characterizes an individual’s preferences for smaller immediate rewards compared to larger future rewards.


The aim of this study is to examine the interrelationships among FH, DD, and diverse aspects of personal substance use, and to test DD as a mediator of the relationship between FH and personal substance use.


The study used crowdsourcing to recruit a community sample of adults (N = 732). Family history was assessed using a brief assessment of perceived parental substance use problems, personal substance use was assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test and a measure of frequency of use, and delay discounting was assessed using a latent index of discounting preferences across six reward magnitudes.


Steeper discounting was significantly associated with personal alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use, and level of substance experimentation. Steeper DD was also associated with a denser parental FH of alcohol, tobacco, and overall substance misuse. Parental FH density was significantly associated with several aspects of personal substance use, and these relationships were partially mediated by DD.


The current study suggests that impulsivity, as measured by DD, is one proximal mechanism by which parental FH increases substance use later in life. The causal role of DD in this relationship will need to be established in future longitudinal studies.


Delay discounting Impulsivity Family history Alcohol Tobacco Marijuana 



This research was supported by NIH grants AA016936, DA032015, and DA027827. Dr. MacKillop is the holder of the Peter Boris Chair in Addictions Research, which partially supported his role.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren VanderBroek
    • 1
  • John Acker
    • 1
  • Abraham A. Palmer
    • 2
    • 3
  • Harriet de Wit
    • 3
  • James MacKillop
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human GeneticsUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral NeuroscienceUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural NeurosciencesMcMaster University/St. Joseph’s Healthcare HamiltonHamiltonCanada

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