Executive dysfunction and reward dysregulation: a high-density electrical mapping study in cocaine abusers

Neuropharmacology. 2014 Oct:85:397-407. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2014.05.016. Epub 2014 Jun 6.


Executive function deficits and reward dysregulation, which mainly manifests as anhedonia, are well documented in drug abusers. We investigated specific aspects of executive function (inhibitory control and cognitive control), as well as anhedonia, in a cohort of current cocaine abusers in order to ascertain to what extent these factors are associated with more severe drug dependence. Participants filled out questionnaires relating to anhedonia and their addiction history. Participants also performed a response inhibition task while high-density event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded. Electrophysiological responses to successful inhibitions (N2/P3 components) and to commission errors (ERN/Pe components) were compared between 23 current users of cocaine and 27 non-using controls. A regression model was performed to determine the association of our measures of reward dysregulation and executive function with addiction severity. As expected, cocaine users performed more poorly than controls on the inhibitory control task and showed significant electrophysiological differences. They were also generally more anhedonic than controls. Higher levels of anhedonia were associated with more severe substance use, whereas the level of executive dysfunction was not associated with more severe substance use. However, N2 amplitude was associated with duration of drug use. Further, inhibitory control and anhedonia were correlated, but only in controls. These data suggest that while executive dysfunction characterizes drug abuse, it is anhedonia, independent of executive dysfunction, that is most strongly associated with more severe use.

Keywords: Addiction; EEG; ERP; Executive function; Inhibition; Reward; Substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anhedonia / drug effects
  • Anhedonia / physiology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Executive Function / drug effects
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Regression Analysis
  • Reward*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Cocaine