Background: Individuals with opioid dependence have cognitive deficits during abuse period in attention, working memory, episodic memory, and executive function. After protracted abstinence consistent cognitive deficit has been found only in executive function. However, few studies have explored cognitive function during first weeks of abstinence. The purpose of this study was to study cognitive function of individuals with opioid dependence during early abstinence. It was hypothesized that cognitive deficits are pronounced immediately after peak withdrawal symptoms have passed and then partially recover.
Methods: Fifteen patients with opioid dependence and fifteen controls matched for, age, gender, and verbal intelligence were tested with a cognitive test battery When patients performed worse than controls correlations between cognitive performance and days of withdrawal, duration of opioid abuse, duration of any substance abuse, or opioid withdrawal symptom inventory score (Short Opiate Withdrawal Scale) were analyzed.
Results: Early abstinent opioid dependent patients performed statistically significantly worse than controls in tests measuring complex working memory, executive function, and fluid intelligence. Their complex working memory and fluid intelligence performances correlated statistically significantly with days of withdrawal.
Conclusion: The results indicate a rather general neurocognitive deficit in higher order cognition. It is suggested that cognitive deficit during early abstinence from opioid dependence is related to withdrawal induced neural dysregulation in the prefrontal cortex and is partly transient.