Drug abusers show impaired performance in a laboratory test of decision making

Neuropsychologia. 2000;38(8):1180-7. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(99)00158-x.


A defining feature of drug addiction is persistent drug use despite long-term adverse consequences. This study examined the performance of drug abusers on a neuropsychological test that requires evaluation of long-term outcomes in the presence of a complex set of mixed reward/punishment contingencies (the Gambling Task). In order to control for generalized deficits related to choice and planning, subjects were also administered the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task. Thirty polysubstance abusers were compared to a comparison group of 24 subjects who did not use illicit drugs of abuse. Drug abusers performed much more poorly on the Gambling Task (net score = 10.2 +/- 4.7, mean +/- s.e.m.) than controls (26.0 +/- 5.3), but did not differ from controls on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task. The results show that drug abusers are more likely to make maladaptive decisions in the Gambling Task that result in long-term losses exceeding short-term gains. These findings indicate that the Gambling Task may be a useful model in laboratory studies of cognitive dysfunctions associated with drug abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Gambling / psychology
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Probability Learning
  • Problem Solving / drug effects
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Illicit Drugs