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Cocaine addiction characterized by an abnormal brain structure

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug characterized by frequent relapses; in fact 80% of people trying to recover from a cocaine addiction relapse within six months. Many people recovering from a drug addiction relapse due to cravings as a result of cue elicited reactions. Decreasing cravings may be vital in helping people remain abstinent after treatment in drug rehabilitation. Research has shown that a common beta blocker, known as propranolol, may prevent the brain from retrieving memories associated with their cocaine use (ScienceDaily, July 18 2011). Combining propranolol with ‘exposure therapy’, which involves pairing drug related stimuli which will produce the cravings but will not satisfy them, may help increase the success of treatment outcomes as the brain will be trained to experience less cravings. Those who took propranolol in the study were able to continue with exposure therapy longer than those who did not take propranolol, suggesting the drug may provide extra support in dealing with cravings. Furthermore an amino acid, named N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has also shown to reduce cravings in cocaine users (ScienceDaily, Oct. 23 2009). The amino acid is believed to reverse changes in the brain, resulting in lessened cravings and thus reduces the chance of relapse. Cocaine-addicted rats that received NAC, did not re-engage in cocaine-taking behaviour even when they were presented with cocaine-associated cues.

Cocaine addiction is also thought to be characterized by an abnormal brain structure (ScienceDaily, June 22 2011). Research has shown that cocaine users have less grey matter in the brain than non-using individuals, which was related to the duration of their using, i.e. the longer the duration of their addiction the less grey matter they appear to have. Parts of the brains reward system (the basal ganglia) were also enlarged in cocaine users; however this finding was not related to the duration of their addiction, suggesting that possessing an enlarged basal ganglia predisposes an individual to an addiction to cocaine. Such research will help us to gain a better understanding of cocaine addiction, as well as help improve drug prevention strategies.

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (2011, July 18). New hope for treatment of cocaine addiction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from­ /releases/2020/07/110715135335.htm

Society for Neuroscience (2009, October 23). Amino Acid May Help Reduce Cocaine Cravings. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from­ /releases/2020/10/091023102504.htm

University of Cambridge (2011, June 22). Abnormal brain structure linked to chronic cocaine abuse. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from­ /releases/2020/06/110621074342.htm


Published by on 16/11/2020.

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