The effects of heroin administration and drug cues on impulsivity

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2016 Aug;38(6):709-20. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2016.1156652. Epub 2016 Apr 10.


Drug addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and continued use despite negative consequences. Behavioral impulsivity is a strong predictor of the initiation and maintenance of drug addiction. Preclinical data suggest that heroin may exacerbate impulsive characteristics in an individual but this has yet to be assessed in clinical samples. The current secondary data analysis sought to investigate the effects of heroin on impulsivity along with the effects of exposure to drug cues. Using the current data set, we also tentatively assessed the etiological relationship between impulsivity and heroin abuse. Sixteen heroin-dependent participants were recruited to complete Immediate Memory Task/Delayed Memory Task (IMT/DMT) and GoStop tasks following repeated heroin administration, following acute heroin administration, and following a drug cue exposure session. Four preceding days of active heroin availability, compared to four preceding days of placebo drug availability, increased impulsivity assessed using the IMT and DMT. Presentation of drug cues similarly acted to increase impulsivity assessments on all three tasks. It also appears that heavier users were more susceptible to the influence of drug cues on impulsivity. The present study represents a step toward a more comprehensive understanding of the interaction between opioid abuse and impulsivity. A better understanding of these factors could provide critical insight into the maintenance of heroin use and relapse.

Keywords: Delayed Memory Task; GoStop; Heroin; Immediate Memory Task; Impulsivity; Opioid abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Heroin / administration & dosage
  • Heroin / pharmacology*
  • Heroin Dependence / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / drug effects*
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotics / administration & dosage
  • Narcotics / pharmacology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests


  • Narcotics
  • Heroin