Working memory predicts methamphetamine hair concentration over the course of treatment: Moderating effect of impulsivity and implications for dual-systems model

Adam J. Rubenis, Rebecca E. Fitzpatrick, Dan I. Lubman, Antonio Verdejo-Garcia

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13 Citations (Scopus)


High impulsivity and poor executive function are characteristic of methamphetamine use disorder. High arousal in the impulsive system has been proposed to compromise the executive system's regulating ability (i.e. the dual-systems model). While interaction between these variables may partly explain poor treatment outcomes associated with methamphetamine use disorder, previous research has tended to examine each factor separately. We investigated whether high impulsivity (measured with an impulsive choice task) and poor executive function (measured with a working memory task) predict methamphetamine use (determined by hair sample) in the 6 weeks following treatment commencement. We also investigated whether impulsive choice moderates the relationship between working memory and methamphetamine use. One hundred and eight individuals with methamphetamine use disorder (75 percent male) were tested within 3 weeks of commencing treatment; 80 (74 percent) were followed up 6 weeks following baseline testing. Cognitive measures significantly predicted drug use after controlling for nuisance variables. Working memory was a significant predictor, while impulsive choice was not. The interaction model included working memory as a predictor and impulsive choice as a moderator. This model was significant, as was the interaction term. Working memory significantly predicted levels of methamphetamine use in early treatment, and impulsive choice moderated this relationship. Those with working memory deficits are particularly vulnerable to using greater amounts of methamphetamine. As working memory increased methamphetamine use decreased among individuals with low/medium delay discounting. Pre-treatment cognitive testing may identify patients at high risk, while remediation of working memory function may be a treatment target for reducing methamphetamine use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-153
Number of pages9
JournalAddiction Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Dual systems
  • Executive function
  • Impulsivity
  • Methamphetamine use disorder
  • Working memory

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