Learning and memory impairment in cocaine-dependent and comorbid schizophrenic patients

Mark R. Serper, Andrea Bergman, Marc L. Copersino, James C.Y. Chou, Danielle Richarme, Robert Cancro

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50 Scopus citations


Impairments in verbal learning and memory functioning have been found to be cardinal features among individuals with schizophrenia as well as among non-schizophrenic cocaine abusers. Cognitive deficits in these areas, moreover, have been associated with poor treatment response and short-term outcome. Little is known, however, about the acute effects of cocaine abuse on schizophrenic patients' learning and memory functioning. Consequently, a potentially reversible and treatable source of cognitive impairment has been virtually ignored. The present study examined the extent of verbal learning and memory impairment in a group of cocaine-dependent schizophrenic patients (n = 42) and a group of non-schizophrenic cocaine-dependent patients (n = 21) within 72 h of the last cocaine use using the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT). Schizophrenic patients (n = 34) without any substance-use disorders were also tested in an identical time frame and served as a comparison group. Results revealed that all groups demonstrated significant learning and memory impairment relative to CVLT published age and gender corrected norms. Both cocaine-dependent and non-substance abusing schizophrenic groups presented a very similar pattern of impaired learning and recall performance across all CVLT task domains. Comorbid patients, in contrast, presented with marked deficits in their ability to learn and recall verbal information relative to either schizophrenic or cocaine-only groups. Moreover, the cocaine-abusing schizophrenic patients showed significant forgetfulness of the information that they did acquire during delayed recall conditions. The performance deficits exhibited by cocaine-abusing schizophrenic patients differed not only in relative severity of impairment, but also qualitatively in their increased rates of forgetfulness of acquired information. These results are interpreted in terms of the neurobiological substrates of learning and memory and the neurobiological impact of cocaine on schizophrenic patients' cognition during the early phase of inpatient hospitalization. These results suggest that comorbid patients should be targeted for specialized remediation efforts at the beginning phases of inpatient treatment. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-32
Number of pages12
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 14 Feb 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • California Verbal Learning Test
  • Neuropsychology
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance dependence


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