Compulsivity and impulsivity in opioid dependence

S. Tolomeo*, F. Davey, J. Douglas Steele, A. Baldacchino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective Chronic exposure to illicit opioid drugs can cause serious health and social problems. However, less is known about the differential effect of various opioid treatments, such as methadone and buprenorphine, on neurocognitive domains such as compulsivity and impulsivity, despite their relevance to the treatment of opioid dependence.

Methods A total of 186 participants were recruited with a cross-sectional design: i) illicit heroin users (n = 27), ii) former heroin users stabilized on methadone MMT (n = 48), iii) a buprenorphine maintenance treatment (BMT) group (n = 18), iv) an abstinent (ABS) group with a history of opioid dependence who were previously stabilized on MMT or BMT (n = 29) and v) healthy controls (HC) (n = 64). We used the Intra-Extra Dimensional Shift (IED) and Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT) paradigms for measuring compulsivity and impulsivity constructs respectively. 
Results Heightened compulsivity persisted in the heroin, buprenorphine and abstinent groups. Heroin, methadone and buprenorphine groups exhibited impaired behavioral responses to feedback, consisting of increased deliberation time and poorer risk adjustment. Higher compulsivity measures were negatively associated with opioid dose which may reflect sedation effects.

Conclusions Our results suggest that compulsivity and impulsivity are core neurocognitive dimensions for opioid dependence which differ in their presentation according to the stage of treatment. Participants taking higher morphine equivalent doses performed better in compulsivity measures. These findings have implications for the treatment of opioid dependence and longitudinal studies are warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109018
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Early online date1 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Abstinence
  • Buprenorphine
  • Cognitive Flexibility
  • Compulsivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Methadone
  • Opioid dependence


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