Background: Cognitive impairments are frequently observed in clients who enter treatment programs for substance abuse. The potential for early recovery of cognitive abilities is suggested by previous research; however, the extent of improvement and risk factors that may help predict individual differences in rates of recovery remain unclear. This study is a 6-week follow-up and retest of an original sample of 197 men and women who had received a broad neuropsychological assessment at addiction treatment entry. The aim was to examine the potential clinical significance of changes in cognitive functioning and the extent to which differential recovery was predictable from client background information.
Methods: Fifteen neuropsychological tests were readministered to 169 of 197 clients 6 weeks after treatment entry. Structural equation modeling was used to estimate separately the practice effects and recovery in four cognitive domains: executive function, memory, information processing speed, and verbal ability. Client background information included age, sex, education, substance use and consequences, psychopathology, medical problems, familial alcoholism history, and childhood behavior problems.
Results: A four-factor model of latent neuropsychological ability that was previously identified at treatment entry was replicated at follow-up. Statistically significant increases in the means of the four latent abilities were found. Memory showed a medium effect size improvement. Executive function, verbal ability, and information processing speed, however, showed only small effect size improvements, suggesting limited clinical significance. Substance use between treatment entry and follow-up, antisocial personality disorder, negative use consequences, less education, and medical problems were modestly predictive of less recovery.
Conclusion: Cognitive recovery in the first 6 weeks of treatment is possible, but, with the possible exception of memory, improvement may be minor in terms of clinical relevance.