BACKGROUND: Dependent cocaine users consistently display cognitive deficits but cognitive performance of recreational cocaine users has rarely been investigated. AIMS: To examine whether cognitive performance is impaired in relatively pure recreational and dependent cocaine users. METHOD: The cognitive performance of recreational (n = 68) and dependent cocaine users (n = 30) was compared with the performance of stimulant-naive controls (n = 68) employing an extensive neuropsychological test battery. Moreover, the impact of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, craving and early age at onset was analysed. RESULTS: Dependent cocaine users display broad cognitive impairments in the domains of attention, working memory, declarative memory and executive functions. The performance of recreational cocaine users in all four domains was intermediate between that of controls and dependent users and they displayed significant deficits foremost in the domains of attention and working memory. In addition, ADHD symptoms, craving and age at onset were important modulators of cognitive function in cocaine users. CONCLUSIONS: Cognitive deficits occur at a recreational and non-dependent level of cocaine use. Cocaine use and ADHD seem to have mutually aggravating effects on cognitive impairment.