Neurocognitive characterizations of Russian heroin addicts without a significant history of other drug use
Research on the neurocognitive characteristics of heroin addiction is sparse and studies that do exist include polydrug abusers; thus, they are unable to distinguish neurocognitive effects of heroin from those of other drugs. To identify neurocognitive correlates specific to heroin addiction, the present study was conducted in St. Petersburg, Russia where individuals typically abuse and/or become addicted to only one substance, generally alcohol or heroin. Heroin addicts were recruited from an inpatient treatment facility in St. Petersburg. Three comparison groups included alcoholics, addicts who used both alcohol and heroin, and non-abusers. Psychiatric, background, and drug history evaluations were administered after detoxification to screen for exclusion criteria and characterize the sample. Executive Cognitive Functions (ECF) that largely activate areas of the prefrontal cortex and its circuitry measured include complex visual pattern recognition (Paired Associates Learning), working memory (Delayed Matching to Sample), problem solving (Stockings of Cambridge), executive decision making (Cambridge Decision Making Task), cognitive flexibility (Stroop Color-Word Task) and response shifting (Stop Change Task). In many respects, the heroin addicts were similar to alcohol and alcohol+heroin dependent groups in neurocognitive deficits relative to controls. The primary finding was that heroin addicts exhibited significantly more disadvantageous decision making and longer deliberation times while making risky decisions than the other groups. Because the nature and degree of recovery from drug abuse are likely a function of the type or pattern of neurocognitive impairment, differential drug effects must be considered.