A new study by the University of Zurich in Switzerland sheds new light on the effects of cocaine. Research shows that long-term cocaine users are less likely to feel rewards from social interaction. The team at Zurich published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and believe that treatment for cocaine users should include something more than flushing the drugs out of the system.
Cocaine is an illegal drug in the United States and is derived from the Erythorxylon coca plant native to South America. An estimates 1.9 million people in the United States were reported to use cocaine, a number that has risen since 2008. The effects of the drug – the reason people use in the first place – give a user short-term energy boosts, cause euphoria, and increase talkativeness. At least, those are the “good” points of cocaine. On the flip side, cocaine can cause brain damage, dependence, stroke and death. Regular users also experience poor memory, lack of proper judgment, and have issues with concentration.
For this new study, the research team at Zurich conducted and experiment with two groups of people. One group consisted of chronic cocaine users; the other had a healthier lifestyle. The team found several different factors in the social experiences of the cocaine users:
1) The cocaine users found it much more difficult to grasp the mental perspective of their peers.
2) There was less emotional empathy demonstrated by the cocaine users.
3) The cocaine users had a difficult time judging the emotional state of the others.
4) Fewer social interactions were reported by the users.
5) There was less social engagement by the cocaine users compared to the others.
Cocaine Use & Antisocial Behavior
So how does this happen, and why? Researchers found that those who used cocaine regularly believed that social interaction was not as rewarding as those with the healthy controls. A deeper look at the chemicals in cocaine and how they react with the brain chemistry showed that cocaine causes a specific area of the brain to malfunction. This area is called the orbitofrontal cortex and is responsible for the reward system. Over time, with continued cocaine use, the brain begins to feel less of a rewarding experience from the “normal” functions of life. Because of this, the user engages in less and less social interactions and leans more and more on the things that have proven to be rewarding, with no idea that their habits are causing the problem. Perhaps this is what fuels the constant push for more of the drug – the fact that the person cannot seem to find joy in what they used to, or anything else but cocaine. Because the brain is not functioning in this way, cocaine users are more likely to lose friends and loved ones. Research suggests that this new finding might shed light as to why cocaine users who lose connections do not feel the need to get off of the drug.
In regards to drug treatment, there are several steps that need to be taken to fully recover from cocaine. First, the drug needs to be completely purged from the system (including those traces that might be stuck in the fatty cells due to continued use.). The new study also suggests that those recovering from a cocaine addiction need to attend social skills groups. This will help the person acclimate to the world around them, interact with their peers, and receive rewards from that interaction.
Given the current dangers of cocaine, it is ill-advised to begin use. The physical dangers alone can lead down a road of addiction, social abandonment, and eventually death. The mental damage might prove to be too great to recover from fully. Taking cocaine will change the way you live your life. Is it worth it?
Medical News Today – http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/271484.php