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Executive Functioning

As an aspect of West Coast Treatment Center’s innovative drug and alcohol treatment services, we target the critical thinking and decision-making techniques that can be crucial to successful recovery. Our emphasis on assessing and enhancing executive functions is another element making West Coast Treatment Center unique among drug and alcohol treatment centers.

What Are “Executive Functions”?

Executive functions are the set of cognitive, or thinking processes which control all of the other lesser thought processes we need to function as productive members of society.

They Include the Abilities To:

  • Anticipate and react appropriately to situations
  • Take initiative
  • Make sound judgments
  • Inhibit undesirable behavior and control impulses
  • Develop goals and implement plans to achieve them
  • Organize, direct and monitor our own thought processes
  • Adapt problem-solving strategies to meet changing conditions
  • Regulate emotional responses and overt behavior

Clearly these are all essential skills to live a healthy, productive life and this is why West Coast Treatment Center has incorporated executive functioning therapies into our drug and alcohol treatment curriculum.

Executive Functioning and Addiction

Numerous clinical studies (1)(2)(3) have demonstrated that the brain’s executive functions are compromised by active addiction and alcoholism. This compounds the challenges that addicts and alcoholics face in their recovery because recovery can require good decision-making, impulse control, and forethought.

Research has also shown that executive functioning can play a role in a person’s likelihood to become addicted, even before they take their first drink or drug. This means that not only do addiction and alcoholism undermine executive functioning but in many cases, the addict is beginning from a position of having less-than-optimal executive functioning.

What Can Be Done?

West Coast Treatment Center believes that effective drug and alcohol treatment begins with treating each client as a whole person, rather than simply a set of symptoms. Our smaller, more intimate setting makes it possible to achieve this in a way that larger hospital-like programs simply can not. We begin by evaluating each patient’s current level of executive functioning. We use a variety of targeted approaches including screening measures for identifiable deficiencies in executive functioning which may have been caused by drug and alcohol abuse. We build a picture of each client’s executive functioning profile by utilizing these initial assessments, client self-reporting and data from family members and loved ones.

Cognitive-behavioral interventions and compensatory strategies can then be implemented. If appropriate, a referral for neuro-cognitive retraining and/or comprehensive neuropsychological assessment can be made.

While Most Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs Do Not Even Address Executive Functioning, at West Coast Treatment Center We:

  • Thoroughly evaluate every client’s executive functioning state
  • Identify specific areas that require improvement
  • Apply proven measures to improve executive functioning during drug and alcohol treatment
  • Provide recommendations for aftercare and other proven methods to improve executive functioning after treatment

Sources and Studies:

(1) Volkow, Nora D., et al. “Dopamine in drug abuse and addiction: results of imaging studies and treatment implications.” Archives of neurology 64.11 (2007): 1575.

(2) Verdejo-Garcı́a, Antonio J., et al. “Differential effects of MDMA, cocaine, and cannabis use severity on distinctive components of the executive functions in polysubstance users: a multiple regression analysis.” Addictive Behaviors 30.1 (2005): 89-101.

(3) Lundqvist, Thomas. “Cognitive consequences of cannabis use: comparison with abuse of stimulants and heroin with regard to attention, memory and executive functions.” Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 81.2 (2005): 319-330.