Although HIV+ individuals may be at increased risk of alcohol-related cognitive impairment, the relations between drinking level and cognitive performance in these individuals are not well understood. We examined whether higher levels of recent drinking in HIV+ individuals were associated with poorer cognitive performance, particularly in executive functioning (EF) and memory.
We administered a comprehensive cognitive battery to 120 seropositive subjects (101 men) who reported alcohol consumption in the preceding 90 days. Participants were excluded if they were seeking alcohol treatment or showed evidence of dementia. Using the computerized CogState battery, we measured performance in EF, verbal learning/memory, visual learning/memory, attention, working memory, and psychomotor speed. The computerized Iowa Gambling Task was used to assess decision-making.
The HIV+ subjects showed significantly slower psychomotor speed than a normative sample. Although across most domains, neurocognitive performance in our sample was not significantly associated with recent alcohol consumption, performance on the CogState measures of visual memory and attention was significantly poorer with a higher level of drinking in the past 3 months and a current alcohol use disorder, respectively.
Although cognitive weaknesses were detectable among these non-treatment-seeking HIV+ drinkers, the level of alcohol consumption was not a primary determinant of neurocognitive performance in this group. A comprehensive profile analysis may be most valuable for detecting cognitive strengths and weaknesses given the heterogeneity of this population. Longitudinal studies are needed to examine the potential additive or synergistic effects of heavy drinking and HIV seropositivity on cognitive performance.