Altered social and non-social decision-making in recreational and dependent cocaine users

Psychol Med. 2014 Apr;44(5):1015-28. doi: 10.1017/S0033291713001839. Epub 2013 Jul 22.


Background: Maladaptive decision-making is assumed to be a core feature of cocaine addiction. Indeed, numerous studies have reported deficits in non-social decision-making tasks and reward-related impulsivity in dependent cocaine users. However, social decision-making has not been examined in cocaine users yet. Moreover, it is unknown if even recreational and non-dependent cocaine use is linked to decision-making deficits. Therefore, we investigated whether recreational and dependent cocaine users exhibit alterations in social and non-social decision-making.

Method: The performance of healthy controls (n = 68), recreational cocaine users (n = 68) and dependent cocaine users (n = 30) in classical decision-making paradigms (Iowa Gambling Task, Delay Discounting) and in social interaction paradigms (Distribution Game, Dictator Game) was assessed.

Results: Decisions in the social interaction tasks of both cocaine user groups were more self-serving compared with controls as cocaine users preferred higher monetary payoffs for themselves. In the Iowa Gambling Task, only dependent cocaine users were more likely to choose disadvantageous card decks, reflecting worse decision-making. They were also more likely to choose immediate smaller rewards over larger delayed rewards in the Delay Discounting task.

Conclusions: Our results imply that both recreational and dependent cocaine users are more concerned with their own monetary gain when interacting with another person. Furthermore, primarily dependent cocaine users are less foresighted and more impulsive regarding immediate reward. Overall, social interaction deficits are already present in recreational users, while non-social decision-making deficits occur predominantly in dependent cocaine users. Thus, social interaction training and cognitive remediation strategies may improve treatment success and quality of life in cocaine dependence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Crack Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Crack Cocaine / analysis
  • Decision Making / drug effects*
  • Delay Discounting / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Crack Cocaine