Brain Abnormalities May Put People at Risk for Cocaine Abuse
A new study from Great Britain found that heavy cocaine users have abnormal brain scans, and that the abnormalities may be what causes the addiction, and not vice versa.
Dr. Karen Ersche of the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge scanned the brains of 60 people who were cocaine-dependent and a control group of 60 who were not.
The amount of gray matter in the orbitofrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate was smaller in the cocaine users, and they also had differences in an area of the brain that involves learning, processing, and cravings. An area associated with reward processing, attention and motor movements was bigger in the cocaine addicts.
“We basically show that cocaine is a disorder of the brain, which is a big step,” said Dr. Ersche. “For a lot of people, it is still a moral issue and willpower has nothing to do with the brain.” She believes that new ways of training or medicating the brain to compensate for the differences may be helpful. She noted the cocaine addicts have shorter attention spans, a problem that worsens the longer they remain addicted.
Most of them are intelligent people who go to great extents to buy cocaine, get more cocaine, and put their jobs at risk, and their families at risk,” Dr. Ersche said. “They feel like they are driven to use more.”
This study appears in the journal Brain.