The neuropsychology of cocaine addiction: Recent cocaine use masks impairment

Patricia A. Woicik, Scott J. Moeller, Nelly Alia-Klein, Thomas Maloney, Tanya M. Lukasik, Olga Yeliosof, Gene Jack Wang, Nora D. Volkow, Rita Z. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


Individuals with current cocaine use disorders (CUD) form a heterogeneous group, making sensitive neuropsychological (NP) comparisons with healthy individuals difficult. The current study examined the effects on NP functioning of four factors that commonly vary among CUD: urine status for cocaine (positive vs negative on study day), cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and dysphoria. Sixty-four cocaine abusers were matched to healthy comparison subjects on gender and race; the groups also did not differ in measures of general intellectual functioning. All subjects were administered an extensive NP battery measuring attention, executive function, memory, facial and emotion recognition, and motor function. Compared with healthy control subjects, CUD exhibited performance deficits on tasks of attention, executive function, and verbal memory (within one standard deviation of controls). Although CUD with positive urine status, who had higher frequency and more recent cocaine use, reported greater symptoms of dysphoria, these cognitive deficits were most pronounced in the CUD with negative urine status. Cigarette smoking, frequency of alcohol consumption, and dysphoria did not alter these results. The current findings replicate a previously reported statistically significant, but relatively mild NP impairment in CUD as compared with matched healthy control individuals and further suggest that frequent/recent cocaine may mask underlying cognitive (but not mood) disturbances. These results call for development of pharmacological agents targeted to enhance cognition, without negatively impacting mood in individuals addicted to cocaine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1112-1122
Number of pages11
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Cocaine addiction
  • Dysphoria
  • Neuropsychological function
  • Urine status


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