Error-related brain activity predicts cocaine use after treatment at 3-month follow-up

Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Apr 15;73(8):782-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.12.016. Epub 2013 Jan 29.


Background: Relapse after treatment is one of the most important problems in drug dependency. Several studies suggest that lack of cognitive control is one of the causes of relapse. In this study, a relative new electrophysiologic index of cognitive control, the error-related negativity, is investigated to examine its suitability as a predictor of relapse.

Methods: The error-related negativity was measured in 57 cocaine-dependent patients during their first week in detoxification treatment. Data from 49 participants were used to predict cocaine use at 3-month follow-up. Cocaine use at follow-up was measured by means of self-reported days of cocaine use in the last month verified by urine screening.

Results: A multiple hierarchical regression model was used to examine the predictive value of the error-related negativity while controlling for addiction severity and self-reported craving in the week before treatment. The error-related negativity was the only significant predictor in the model and added 7.4% of explained variance to the control variables, resulting in a total of 33.4% explained variance in the prediction of days of cocaine use at follow-up.

Conclusions: A reduced error-related negativity measured during the first week of treatment was associated with more days of cocaine use at 3-month follow-up. Moreover, the error-related negativity was a stronger predictor of recent cocaine use than addiction severity and craving. These results suggest that underactive error-related brain activity might help to identify patients who are at risk of relapse as early as in the first week of detoxification treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Behavior, Addictive / diagnosis*
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recurrence
  • Time Factors