Tag: <span>Mental Health Treatment</span>

Neuropsychological Testing and Substance Use Disorders

By Ronnit Nazarian, Psy.D.

Most of us are aware of the long standing emotional and behavioral effects of substance abuse. However, the more subtle and detrimental effects that are harder to assess are the negative impacts substance abuse has on a person’s cognitive abilities (e.g., short term memory, fluid reasoning, processing speed). For example, we see that opioid addiction increases depressive emotions and behaviors. More subtle impacts of opioid addiction, according to research, is the effect on a person’s prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe.2 Consequently, these areas of impact in turn affect a person’s cognitive abilities, which we can identify with a neuropsychological evaluation. Specifically, with an impact on the prefrontal cortex (e.g., influences emotion, memory, and executive function) and temporal lobe (e.g., influences language and visual perception), we would find that most opioid users would have difficulty retaining visual memory, comprehending spoken language, planning, and making decisions.2 Before going into the most common areas impacted by substance abuse, let’s discuss what neuropsychological testing is and how it can inform the type of treatment plan you receive medically and therapeutically.

What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

A neuropsychological evaluation is an in-depth assessment of a person’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses, academic achievement, and social emotional functioning. The evaluation measures areas such as attention, emotions, executive functioning, memory, visual-spatial reasoning, processing speed, verbal comprehension, reading, writing, and math. In order to assess a person’s neuropsychological functioning, a variety of measures are administered such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Woodcock Johnson Test of Cognitive Abilities, Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Conners 3, and many others. Concerns that suggest for neuropsychological testing are typically difficulties in the following areas: attention, memory, problem solving, and comprehension. These concerns can be due to a variety of reasons (e.g., Anxiety, Depression), as well as an underlying effect of substance use.

What are the benefits of a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

A major benefit of having a neuropsychological evaluation is using the results to assist professionals and clients in obtaining a comprehensive picture of the client’s concern and, consequently, informing their selection of an effective treatment for the client. For example, let’s imagine a client who is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, neuropsychological testing can inform the patient in understanding that their presentation of anxiety impacts their processing speed (ability to complete tasks within the allotted time) and verbal memory. If this were an adult client, this information can be valuable in understanding the difficulty of working in high pressure environments with timelines on projects and demand for high quality work. Tying it back to therapy, neuropsychological testing assists the therapist to better understand the impact of the concern on the client’s life across different settings (e.g., work, school, home, relationships), which can in turn influence the therapeutic treatment to be centered around the client’s needs.

With neuropsychological testing, we can also find the current impacts of substance abuse on a person’s functioning. In addition, the evaluation can help identify long standing underlying conditions  (e.g., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Depression) that may have driven substance use to begin with. For example, research shows clients who abuse specific substances may have presented with anxiety since a young age, which could have influenced their use of substances in order to cope with the anxiety.4 In other cases with neuropsychological testing, we may find that the client experienced a traumatic event, which triggered an increase in alcohol usage and leading to dependence in order to cope.3

What are common impacts of substance abuse on cognitive abilities?

An overwhelming amount of research shows that people with addiction typically have cognitive deficits affecting predominantly executive functions, decision making, emotion regulation, attention, and memory.1 The cognitive area impacted differs as a function of the principal drug of choice. Specifically, research has shown that “cocaine and methamphetamine are linked to deficits in working memory, response inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and decision making. Opioid addiction is associated with deficits in verbal episodic and working memory as well as fluency and decision-making. Alcohol addiction relates to cognitive deficits across the board, spanning from basic abilities such as speed and language to attention and memory and more complex executive functions and decision-making. Cannabis addiction, however, is linked to specific alterations in episodic memory although they can be short-lived. MDMA (ecstasy) users also show discrete alterations of memory processes. Most populations with addiction problems have deficits in emotion processing and regulation as well as social cognition and interaction problems.”2

Can cognitive abilities improve after being impacted by substance use?

While these areas are heavily impacted, there are effective therapies out that can help alleviate the impact of substance abuse and result in improvements (e.g., Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Individualized Withdrawal Treatments, Motivational Interviewing, Medication Management, Group Therapy).6 With the ability to use neuropsychological test to identify areas of concern and the influence on use of substance abuse, we can use this information to pave the way for treatment planning and effectively treat these areas to show improvements and change.

At Fifth Avenue Psychiatry, we strive to provide our clients with an integrative and client centered approach. We gather pertinent information across all areas of a client’s life and then formulate a more tailored treatment plan. Neuropsychological testing is one aspect of informing an effective treatment plan that is individualized and improving recovery by understanding a person’s psychological functioning. It will allow you to understand the experiences, abilities, and areas that may impact you.

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  1. Bruijnen, C., Dijkstra, B., Walvoort, S., Markus, W., VanDerNagel, J., Kessels, R., & DE Jong, C. (2019). Prevalence of cognitive impairment in patients with substance use disorder. Drug and alcohol review, 38(4), 435–442. https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.12922
  2. García, A.V. (2018). The neuropsychologist working in addiction: What to know? Ten questions and answers. Revista Iberoamericana de Neuropsicología, 1(2), 170-179.
  3. Khoury, L., Tang, Y. L., Bradley, B., Cubells, J. F., & Ressler, K. J. (2010). Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population. Depression and anxiety, 27(12), 1077–1086. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20751
  4. McCauley Ohannessian C. (2014). Anxiety and substance use during adolescence. Substance abuse, 35(4), 418– https://doi.org/10.1080/08897077.2014.953663
  5. Punzi, E. H. (2015). Neuropsychological Assessment in Substance Abuse Treatment—Focusing on the Effects of Substances and on Neuropsychological Assessment as a Collaborative Process. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 85(2), 128-145. doi: 1080/00377317.2015.1017357
  6. Sofuoglu, M., DeVito, E. E., Waters, A. J., & Carroll, K. M. (2013). Cognitive enhancement as a treatment for drug addictions. Neuropharmacology, 64(1), 452– https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.06.021

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction 

By Britt Gottlich, Psy.D.

I often meet with people who say they are unsure of whether they have experienced trauma or not. So what is trauma? Most people define trauma based on how trauma is portrayed in the media. But in reality it is a very subjective experience. Something that may be traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.”

The way I like to understand trauma is based on an individual’s interpretation of the event. As children we live under the assumption that ‘good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.’ When we experience a trauma, often our interpretation of this rule becomes clouded and confused. For example, it could change to, ‘if good things happen to good people, and this happened to me, then I must be bad.’ Therefore, a person’s reaction to a traumatic experience often affects the way they see themselves, other people, and the world around them.

We can’t change or erase a traumatic experience, unfortunately. But what we can do is change the way we interpret it and ultimately the way we understand the world around us as a result of that event. This is where Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) can be a useful treatment modality. It helps us identify the cognitive distortions that are derived from our traumas, and using evidence and facts, combat those thoughts with rational ones. 

CPT has been a very effective treatment modality which is often used in treating Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. CPT is a 12 session behavioral psychotherapy. It has been found to be highly effective in treatment for PTSD. A study conducted in 2017 that studied the effectiveness of CPT on Veterans found that Veterans who completed the 12 session treatment had a significant difference in their symptoms and had a decline in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist scores than Veterans who did not complete or comply with treatment. Other treatments that are used for PTSD are Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) and Prolonged Exposure (PE). In my experience and training with all the above modalities, I have seen the most improvement and success with CPT.

While there are treatments such as CPT that are very effective in treating trauma, one of the most important pieces in this type of therapy is rapport. It is important in all therapy to have a positive relationship with your therapist where you feel comfortable and not judged. But especially when disclosing a trauma, and going deep into the event, feelings, and cognitions related to it, it is important that you feel trusting of the person providing that treatment.

From my experience working at a VA and currently here at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry, I see that there is a high comorbidity for substance abuse and PTSD, especially when PTSD goes undiagnosed or untreated. VA statistics note that more than 2 out of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder, and 1 out of 3 Veterans seeking treatment for substance use disorders also meet criteria for PTSD. The American Addictions Center reported that 55-60% of individuals who suffer from PTSD have comorbid addiction or alcoholism. They also note that “people who suffer PTSD are between two and four times more likely to also battle addiction than their peers who do not also struggle with PTSD.”

Again, traumas are not something that can be erased, but they can be something you can learn to live with. You can begin to see the world, people, and yourself in healthier ways again. You may never fully believe that ‘good things happen to good people,’ but eventually you may believe that ‘bad things sometimes happen to good people.’

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0033294117727746?rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&journalCode=prxa

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/ptsd

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