Brain Shape Affects Cocaine Addiction

cocaine addiction and the brainA new study from Cambridge University found that cocaine users with a larger frontal lobe were less likely to become addicted to cocaine.

In their study, researchers looked at a number of recreational cocaine users. They found that many were addicted, but there were a few people who had used cocaine for years without ever becoming dependent. The study participants underwent a brain scan and a personality test as a part of the research. Those that had never become addicted to cocaine were found to have an abnormally large frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that handles self-control and decision making.

This has lead the researchers to believe that the larger lobes bight help people resist the urge to abuse cocaine. Conversely, the study found that people with cocaine dependence had a smaller set of frontal lobes than the average person. These smaller lobes could be present from birth or they could have been affected by cocaine abuse. Researchers are not sure which is true but they believe cocaine plays at least some part in the shrinking of the frontal lobes.  

The research also found that people most likely to develop an addiction to cocaine shared some personality traits. Cocaine addicts were both impulsive and compulsive. Separately these traits are not too worrying but put together, they become a clear indicator that someone could easily develop an addiction.

Those less likely to become addicted to cocaine were people sensation seekers with short attention spans. These people were not less likely to try cocaine, but they had a far lower chance of becoming addicted.

The studies leader, Dr Karen Ersche said, “These findings are important because they show that the use of cocaine does not inevitably lead to addiction in people with good self-control and no familial risk. Our findings indicate that preventative strategies might be more effective if they were tailored more closely to those individuals at risk according to their personality profile and brain structure.”

The researchers are planning on continuing their study by examining what factors make people less likely to become addicts. With their current insight and new studies, the researchers may be able to come up with a more definitive list of criteria for people at risk of drug addiction. This could help alert people who are at risk before they ever encounter drugs. 

To learn more about cocaine or other drug addictions, check out the Life Works Knowledge Centre

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