INTRODUCTION: Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to ascribe thoughts (cognitive ToM) and feelings (affective ToM) to others. Ample evidence exists for impairments of affective and cognitive ToM in individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD); however, evidence regarding changes of these impairments during AUD treatment and their possible relationship to comorbid symptoms is ambiguous. The current study analyzed changes in ToM during treatment and tested associations with comorbid symptoms of depression, anxiety, somatization, and social functioning.
METHODS: We analyzed data from 175 individuals with AUD. The study assessed ToM and comorbid symptoms of depression, anxiety, somatization, and social functioning at the time of admission and at the time of discharge from an approximately 60 days long abstinence-oriented inpatient treatment. We assessed affective and cognitive ToM using the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition, a measure with high ecological validity.
RESULTS: All symptoms, total and cognitive ToM improved following treatment; however, affective ToM did not improve. Moreover, cognitive ToM at the beginning of treatment was associated with improved symptoms of depression and somatization, while affective ToM was not.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study shows improvements in total and cognitive ToM as well as symptoms of depression, anxiety, somatization, and social functioning following long-term treatment. Furthermore, cognitive ToM was related to improvements in comorbid symptoms. This finding suggests that ToM may be an important treatment target in patients with AUD.