Changes in Drug-Related Implicit Associations during Substance Use Disorder Treatment: The Role of the Therapeutic Context


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Background Implicit cognition has been linked to relapse in substance use disorder (SUD). Studies on attentional bias have found different outcomes related to the therapeutic context, finding an association with relapse in inpatients but not in outpatients. There are no similar studies that use associations in semantic memory as a measure of implicit cognition. Objectives (i) to analyze the relationship between a measure of associations in semantic memory and relapse in inpatients and outpatients; (ii) to compare the evolution of these associations between inpatients and outpatients after 3 months of treatment. Methods Eighty nine outpatients and 94 inpatients with SUD for cocaine and alcohol participated in this study. We employed a longitudinal design with a baseline evaluation and follow-up after three months, using the Word Association Task for Drug Use Disorder (WAT-DUD). Results The choice of drug-related words predicted relapse in cocaine (odds ratio = 1.97, z = 2.01, p = .045) and alcohol-cocaine (odds ratio = 2.39, z = 2.55, p = .011) use. Follow-up at 3 months revealed a reduction in the choice of drug-related words in inpatients (Z = 2.031, p = .042). Conclusions A greater choice of drug-associated words in the presence of ambiguous images was related to relapse in inpatients but not in outpatients. The inpatients group showed a reduction in the semantic association with drugs during the first three months of treatment.
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