Cognitive recovery during and after treatment for volatile solvent abuse

Kylie Dingwall, Paul Maruff, Amy Fredrickson, Sheree Cairney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Cognitive impairment reflecting CNS disruption in chronic solvent abusers can resolve within two years of abstinence. However, the specific time course for recovery has yet to be determined empirically. This study monitored cognition among solvent (i.e., gasoline) abusers throughout 8 weeks of residential treatment. It also investigated the extent to which solvent-related cognitive impairments persisted following discharge.

Methods: Non-drug using healthy controls (n= 33) and solvent abusers (n= 29) who had inhaled gasoline, regularly or episodically, for an average of 4.3 years (SD = 2.7) were assessed. Using linear mixed model analyses, solvent abusers were compared to healthy controls throughout treatment at baseline, two weeks, four weeks and six weeks, on visual motor, attention, learning, memory, and executive function tasks. Ten users who maintained abstinence were reassessed an average of 12 months later (SD = 2.8) and were compared to healthy controls (n= 12) retested at the same time interval using ANCOVA while controlling for age and baseline performance.

Results: At baseline, solvent abusers showed cognitive deficits on visual motor, learning and memory, paired associate learning, and executive functions. Paired associate learning performance improved within 6 weeks of abstinence, however, impairments in visual motor speed, learning and memory, and executive function persisted throughout and in some cases beyond treatment.

Conclusions: Cognitive deficits exist for solvent abusers upon treatment entry. Some impairments resolve within weeks of abstinence, while memory and executive function improves gradually over months to years of abstinence, and might never fully recover.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-185
Number of pages6
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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