Impulsivity refers to a wide spectrum of actions characterized by quick and nonplanned reactions to external and internal stimuli, without taking into account the possible negative consequences for the individual or others, and decision-making is one of the biologically dissociated impulsive behaviors. Changes in impulsivity may be associated with norepinephrine. Various populations of drug addicts all performed impulsive decision making, which is a key risk factor in drug dependence and relapse. The present study investigated the effects of clonidine, which decreased norepinephrine release through presynaptic alpha-2 receptor activation, on the impaired decision-making performance in abstinent heroin addicts.
Decision-making performance was assessed using the original version of Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). Both heroin addicts and normal controls were randomly assigned to three groups receiving clonidine, 0, 75 µg or 150 µg orally under double blind conditions. Psychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, depression and impulsivity, were rated on standardized scales. Heroin addicts reported higher scores on the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale and exhibited impaired decision-making on the IGT. A single high-dose of clonidine improved the decision-making performance in heroin addicts.
Our results suggest clonidine may have a potential therapeutic role in heroin addicts by improving the impaired impulsive decision-making. The current findings have important implications for behavioral and pharmacological interventions targeting decision-making in heroin addiction.