Brain abnormalities could be key to understanding cocaine dependency

Brain abnormalities could be help explain why certain people could have a pre-disposition to cocaine dependency, according to research published today.

In a report in The Herald newspaper today, researchers at theUniversity of Cambridge have identified the abnormalities in the frontal lobe of cocaine users’ brains which are linked to their compulsive cocaine-using behaviour. Scientists think these abnormalities could help explain why some people are more prone to drug dependency.

The researchers, led by Dr Karen Ersche of the University’s Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute,  scanned the brains of 120 people, half of whom had a dependence on cocaine.   They found that the cocaine users had widespread loss of grey matter which was directly related to the duration of their cocaine use and that this reduction in volume was associated with greater compulsivity to take cocaine.

The scientists also found that parts of the brain reward system where cocaine exerts its actions were significantly enlarged in cocaine users. This was not linked to the duration of the user’s habit.

The researchers believe this may suggest that alterations in the brain’s reward system predate cocaine use, possibly making these individuals more vulnerable to the effects of the drug.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is currently carrying out a review of the harms associated with cocaine.

Source:  11th June 2011

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