Is It Possible to Kick A Cocaine Addiction?
(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Cocaine is one of the most addictive of all drugs. An estimated 1.5 million Americans are hooked on it. It is a major drug problem. Nearly $40 billion a year is spent on cocaine, which also makes it a drug of choice for organized crime. It is also considered one of the most difficult drug habits to kick, mostly because it zeros in on the pleasure centre of the brain. It is often said that once people develop an addiction, they can never completely eliminate their attraction to the abused substance. New research by Krishna Patel at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital and colleagues further supports this thinking. Their research suggests that even long-term abstinence from cocaine does not result in a complete normalization of brain circuitry.
Science is trying to answer some of the key questions surrounding the abuse of drugs, in particular, whether individuals who abuse psycho-stimulants such as cocaine are more impulsive and show alterations in brain reward circuits as a consequence of using the drug, or whether such abnormalities existed prior to their drug use. In the former case, one might expect brain alterations to normalize following prolonged drug abstinence.
Krishna Patel and colleagues compared neural responses between three groups of people who were asked to complete a task that resembles bidding on eBay items. The three groups consisted of 47 healthy controls, 42 currently drug-abusing cocaine users, and 35 former cocaine users who have been abstinent for an average of four years. They compared all three groups on their levels of impulsivity and reward responding.
They found that active users showed abnormal activation in multiple brain regions involved with reward processing and that the abstinent individuals who were previously cocaine dependent manifested differences in a subset of those regions. Both current and former cocaine users displayed similarly elevated impulsivity measures compared to healthy controls, which may indicate that these individuals had a pre-existing risk for addiction. The degree of impulsivity correlated with several of the brain activation abnormalities. These findings suggest that prolonged abstinence from cocaine may normalize only a subset of the brain abnormalities associated with active drug use.
The researchers agree that further studies will be needed to determine the extent to which differences in former cocaine users reflect aspects of pre-existing features, exposure to cocaine, or recovery. Finally, staying on cocaine addiction, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College have successfully tested their anti-cocaine vaccine on primates, bringing them closer to launching human clinical trials. Their study was published by the journal Neuropsychopharmacology and states there is a vaccine that could help people kick their drug habit, which would be very similar to a flu shot to deal with addiction.
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