Impulsivity and Reflective Thinking in Veterans Seeking Care for Substance Use Disorder


veterans, substance use disorder, cognitive reflection

Document Type



Objective: Substance use disorder (SUD) is a major public health crisis, with increased overdose deaths in the past decade. This has coincided with a tremendous amount of research on those who misuse substances. However, extensive research on SUD vulnerability characteristics such as impulsivity may be complemented by research on theoretically relevant aspects of cognition. The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) was designed to measure a person's ability to subdue quick, intuitive decisions to reflect or deliberate. To some decision making theorists, this measure may help explain why some people are better able to inhibit "gut reactions" than others. Methods: We recruited 140 veterans from a Veterans Affairs medical center; 91 of whom were receiving SUD treatment. Participants completed the CRT and a measure of trait impulsivity (the UPPS-P). We ran planned ANCOVAs assessing differences in the number of correct answers on the CRT and the proportion of errors that were intuitive. Results: Participants who were receiving treatment gave significantly fewer correct, reflective answers on the CRT compared to controls. However, there were no significant differences in the proportion of errors that were due to intuitive responses. These findings did not change when controlling for age and/or trait impulsivity. Conclusion: Those suffering from SUD may exhibit cognitive deficits that do not stem from intuitive thinking. These deficits may, in turn, exacerbate issues arising from elevated impulsivity. Additional research which better incorporates decision making theory may be invaluable in providing clinically-relevant results and positive public health outcomes.

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