Groups of subjects whose primary drug of abuse was amphetamine or heroin were compared, together with age- and IQ-matched control subjects. The study consisted of a neuropsychological test battery which included both conventional tests and also computerised tests of recognition memory, spatial working memory, planning, sequence generation, visual discrimination learning, and attentional set-shifting. Many of these tests have previously been shown to be sensitive to cortical damage (including selective lesions of the temporal or frontal lobes) and to cognitive deficits in dementia, basal ganglia disease, and neuropsychiatric disorder. Qualitative differences, as well as some commonalities, were found in the profile of cognitive impairment between the two groups. The chronic amphetamine abusers were significantly impaired in performance on the extra-dimensional shift task (a core component of the Wisconsin Card Sort Test) whereas in contrast, the heroin abusers were impaired in learning the normally easier intra-dimensional shift component. Both groups were impaired in some of tests of spatial working memory. However, the amphetamine group, unlike the heroin group, were not deficient in an index of strategic performance on this test. The heroin group failed to show significant improvement between two blocks of a sequence generation task after training and additionally exhibited more perseverative behavior on this task. The two groups were profoundly, but equivalently impaired on a test of pattern recognition memory sensitive to temporal lobe dysfunction. These results indicate that chronic drug use may lead to distinct patterns of cognitive impairment that may be associated with dysfunction of different components of cortico-striatal circuitry. Copyright (C) 2000 American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.