A recent study found that cocaine addicts manifest a preference for drug-related images as compared to non-addicted subjects.
The said study was conducted at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. The findings were presented by University of Michigan psychology graduate student Scott Moeller at the annual meeting for the Society for Neuroscience in Washington DC. Moeller worked with a group of researchers from Brookhaven’s Neurpsychoimaging department for this particular study.
“This behavioral study demonstrates for the first time that drug-related choice in cocaine addiction extends to abstract, non-pharmacological stimuli, facilitating the study of choice behavior in addiction without using actual cocaine,” says Moeller. In previous studies, experts had to administer the drug or a substance that is similar to it so they can assess its effects on the brain and the individual’s behavior. The tasks developed from this particular study can prove to be helpful in monitoring certain types of behavior – i.e. assess the efficacy of addiction treatment among individuals who are trying to abstain from using drugs.
The experiment used four card decks, each one containing an image type: cocaine-related, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. The subjects, composed of both healthy and cocaine addicted individuals, were asked to select one deck. The subjects were not necessarily conscious of their tendency to prefer a particular type of image.
In the tasks, “the cocaine-addicted individuals chose the cocaine-related images more than the healthy controls, who showed clear aversion to these images.”
What made the findings of the study more interesting was that while the cocaine addicts rated the pleasant images as better than the cocaine-related ones, the group in general still chose primarily from these two image decks and at the same rates. The finding suggests that it is possible that the individuals are unconscious of their choice behavior or it’s not just pleasure or reward that motivates the individual to opt for the images.
Cocaine-addicted subjects who manifested a more pronounced preference for the cocaine-related images are also the ones who have used the drug more frequently during the past month. The finding suggests that such tasks may be used to assess the severity of drug use.
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