Assessment of executive function in patients with substance use disorder: A comparison of inventory- and performance-based assessment
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Introduction Chronic polysubstance abuse (SUD) is associated with neurophysiological and neuroanatomical changes. Neurocognitive impairment tends to affect quality of life, occupational functioning, and the ability to benefit from therapy. Neurocognitive assessment is thus of importance, but costly and not widely available. Therefore, in a busy clinical setting, procedures that include readily available measures targeting core cognitive deficits would be beneficial. This paper investigates the utility of psychometric tests and a questionnaire-based inventory to assess “hot” and “cold” neurocognitive measures of executive functions (EF) in adults with a substance use disorder. Hot decision-making processes are associated with emotional, affective, and visceral responses, while cold executive functions are associated with rational decision-making. Material and Methods Subjects with polysubstance abuse (n = 126) and healthy controls (n = 32) were compared on hot (Iowa Gambling Task) and cold (Stroop and the Trail Making Test) measures of EF, in addition to a questionnaire assessing everyday EF related problems (BRIEF-A; Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function – Adult, self-report version). Information about the substance abuse and social adjustment were assessed by self-report. Logistic regression analyses were applied to assess independent correlates of SUD status and social adjustment. A multiple linear regression was performed to predict the number of previous treatment attempts. Results The psychometric test of hot EF (the Iowa Gambling Task) did not differentiate the patients with polysubstance abuse from controls, and was not associated with social adjustment. The psychometric tests of cold EF distinguished somewhat between the groups and were associated with one indicator of social adjustment. The BRIEF-A differentiated between groups on all the clinical scales and was associated with three out of five social adjustment indicators (“criminal lifestyle,” “conflict with caregiver,” and “stable housing.”). Conclusions The BRIEF-A inventory was the most sensitive measure of executive function in patients with substance use disorder, followed by measures of cold executive function. BRIEF-A should therefore be considered as an integral part of the clinical routine when assessing patients with SUD.