The influence of trait compulsivity and impulsivity on addictive and compulsive behaviors during COVID-19

Lucy Albertella, Kristian Rotaru, Erynn Christensen, Amelia Lowe, Mary Ellen Brierley, Karyn Richardson, Samuel R. Chamberlain, Rico S.C. Lee, Edouard Kayayan, Jon E. Grant, Sam Schluter-Hughes, Campbell Ince, Leonardo F. Fontenelle, Rebecca Segrave, Murat Yücel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in high levels of psychological distress worldwide, with experts expressing concern that this could result in corresponding increases in addictive behaviors as individuals seek to cope with their distress. Further, some individuals may be at greater risk than others for developing problematic addictive behaviors during times of high stress, such as individuals with high trait impulsivity and compulsivity. Despite the potential of such knowledge to inform early detection of risk, no study to date has examined the influence of trait impulsivity and compulsivity on addictive behaviors during COVID-19. Toward this aim, the current study examined the association between impulsive and compulsive traits and problematic addictive and compulsive behaviors during the first COVID-19 lockdown in Australia. Methods: Eight hundred seventy-eight adults completed a cross-sectional online survey during the first lockdown, between late May to June 2020. Participants completed scales for addictive and compulsive behaviors for the period prior to and during lockdown for problematic eating, pornography, internet use, gambling, drinking, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Negative binomial regressions examined the associations between impulsivity, compulsivity, and their interaction with problematic behaviors during lockdown, controlling for age, gender, sample, psychological distress, exposure to COVID-related stressors, and pre-COVID problems. Results: Greater trait compulsivity was associated with more problematic obsessive-compulsive behaviors (p < 0.001) and less problematic drinking (p = 0.038) during lockdown. Further, trait compulsivity interacted with trait impulsivity in relation to problematic eating behaviors (p = 0.014) such that greater trait compulsivity was associated with more problems among individuals with low impulsivity only (p = 0.030). Finally, psychological distress and/or exposure to COVID-related stressors were associated with greater problems across all addictive and compulsive behaviors, as was severity of pre-COVID problems. Discussion: Trait compulsivity was associated with addictive and compulsive behaviors in different ways. Further, the finding that stress-related variables (psychological distress and COVID-related stressors) were associated with greater problems across all lockdown behaviors supports the idea that stress may facilitate, or otherwise be associated with, problematic behaviors. These findings highlight the need for interventions that enhance resilience to stress, which in turn may reduce risk for addictive and compulsive disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number634583
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2021


  • addiction
  • compulsivity
  • COVID-19
  • impulsivity
  • OCD

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