Cocaine Addicts Have Different Brain Structure Than Recreational Users

Cocaine Addicts Have Different Brain Structure Than Recreational UsersCocaine addiction can be challenging to treat. Many who enter treatment and learn tools for countering cravings find themselves back in treatment shortly after completing it. Relapse is common among those with a cocaine addiction.

However, not all individuals who use cocaine become addicted to the drug. For many, the substance is used on a recreational basis, and they never develop the pathological pattern that leads to addiction and the destruction of their lifestyle. While there are many factors involved with the development of any addiction, many experts have attempted to determine why some individuals use cocaine without developing addiction and others cannot seem to discontinue its use.

A new study may offer a clue into the difference between a recreational drug user and an addict. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered that a significant difference in brain structure is evident between the two types of drug users. Individuals who do not have a dependence, despite regular usage, have an unusually large frontal lobe. This area of the brain is central to functions of self-control.

Published in a recent issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry, the findings show the analysis of brain scan comparisons between the two types of drug users. All of the individuals who underwent the brain scans were regular users of cocaine, but some were not addicted, despite several years of use.

The study, led by Dr. Karen Ersche, found that among those who were not addicted to cocaine, the area of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control was abnormally larger.

The research team explains that the increase in grey matter volume may indicate that there is a resilience to the drug and may aid in matters of self-control and making better decisions that minimize their risk of addiction. The researchers believe that the higher volume of grey matter is a pre-drug use condition, not a result of the way drugs were used.

The researchers also found that in those with cocaine dependence, there was evidence of a reduced size in the same area. Earlier research has also found reduced grey matter volume in cocaine addicts. The researchers believe that some of the reduction is a result of cocaine use, which may cause a lessening of grey matter.

The researchers also found that those who use illicit drugs tend to have high levels of sensation-seeking traits in their personalities, but traits like impulsivity and compulsivity may be limited to those who develop an addiction.

The findings of the study provide important information that may lead to more effective screening and targeting for prevention and education efforts. There may be widespread benefits in tailoring prevention efforts to a population most at-risk for developing an addiction, such as cost-savings from public health costs to lost productivity.