Effects of alcoholism severity and smoking on executive neurocognitive function

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Abstract

Aims

Neurocognitive deficits in chronic alcoholic men are well documented. Impairments include memory, visual–spatial processing, problem solving and executive function. The cause of impairment could include direct effects of alcohol toxicity, pre-existing cognitive deficits that predispose towards substance abuse, comorbid psychiatric disorders and abuse of substances other than alcohol. Cigarette smoking occurs at higher rates in alcoholism and has been linked to poor cognitive performance, yet the effects of smoking on cognitive function in alcoholism are often ignored. We examined whether chronic alcoholism and chronic smoking have effects on executive function.

Methods

Alcoholism and smoking were examined in a community-recruited sample of alcoholic and non-alcoholic men (n = 240) using standard neuropsychological and reaction-time measures of executive function. Alcoholism was measured as the average level of alcoholism diagnoses across the study duration (12 years). Smoking was measured in pack-years.

Results

Both alcoholism and smoking were correlated negatively with a composite executive function score. For component measures, alcoholism was correlated negatively with a broad range of measures, whereas smoking was correlated negatively with measures that emphasize response speed. In regression analyses, both smoking and alcoholism were significant predictors of executive function composite. However, when IQ is included in the regression analyses, alcoholism severity is no longer significant.

Conclusions

Both smoking and alcoholism were related to executive function. However, the effect of alcoholism was not independent of IQ, suggesting a generalized effect, perhaps affecting a wide range of cognitive abilities of which executive function is a component. On the other hand, the effect of smoking on measures relying on response speed were independent of IQ, suggesting a more specific processing speed deficit associated with chronic smoking.

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