New research suggests that people who use cocaine may be less able to refrain from use due to enlarged basal ganglia, or reward systems, in their brains. Dr. Karen Ersche, of the University of Cambridge, and colleagues, conducted a study on 60 people with cocaine dependency and 60 without. They examined the brains of the participants and discovered that longtime cocaine abuse caused reduction of grey matter. They also discovered that the enlarged basal ganglia found in those with cocaine dependency was not related to their cocaine use, but may have been present before. The researchers believe that this abnormality in brain structure may make these people more likely to abuse cocaine. “This research gives us important insight into why some people are more vulnerable to drug addiction,” said Ersche, of the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge. “Not only is this important for the future development of more effective therapeutic interventions for people who have become dependent on drugs, it will also inform improved strategies to prevent drug addiction in the first place.”
People who use cocaine report feeling compelled to use the drug. Ersche added, “People with cocaine dependence describe their out-of-control drug use as a ‘compulsion to use cocaine. Our current work has laid the foundation for a better understanding of cocaine dependence and why this compulsion occurs.” The researchers also noted that their study showed that cocaine use can often lead to impaired attention in those who abuse for extended periods of time. “Our findings are important because they show a clear relationship between the brain, the duration of cocaine use and some of the common attention problems that people with cocaine dependence report. These data show that cocaine dependence is a disorder of the brain, which is very relevant information for the treatment of people who are trying to beat their addiction,” said Ersche.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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