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Cocaine abuse may be a medical problem, not a moral problem

Ever wondered why cocaine seems to have a stronger effect on some people than others? A recent study by the Trinity College Dublin enumerates the reason why. Conducted in partnership with The Medical College of Wisconsin and partly funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, the research found that cocaine affects parts of the brain that control behavior and decision making. It further revealed that the extent of the alteration varies from person to person, which maybe used as biological basis to explain why the effects of cocaine addiction are different among different users.

Another significant aspect to this research is that its findings may be used to explain why relapses in cocaine use occur. The researchers claim that the cognitive alterations in the brain may cause a person to return to his or her drug dependency habit even after years of abstinence.

The direct effect

In a news release, NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow discussed that cocaine attacks and damages the dopamine system in the brain. This is how cocaine directly affects decision making, as high concentrations of dopamine receptors are known to be found in regions of the brain responsible for higher thought.

By subjecting 15 cocaine users and 15 healthy persons to a series of computer-aided tasks, the Trinity College researchers found a direct correlation between a cocaine user’s inability to control his actions (where high level of decision making is involved) to the decreased capacity to control activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is an effect of cocaine abuse.

For better treatment

Aside from shedding some light on the correlation described above, proponents of this research have high hopes that the findings of their study would help in improving treatment methods for cocaine dependency. A significant implication of the study is that cocaine use is more of a medical condition than a moral weakness. However, the researchers are quick to clarify that their study is not conclusive in determining the causes behind cocaine addiction. Instead, the team suggests that their findings be used to design better intervention therapies and improve treatment for long-term addiction.

Traditional treatment methods

While they push for further studies to discover pharmacological treatment of cocaine addiction, the team recognizes the wonders of traditional treatment methods.

The team leader, Dr Hugh Garavan suggests that “traditional treatment therapy such as counseling or rehab could also be adapted to train addicts to monitor their behaviour and practice impulse control.”