A new study has suggested that one of the consequences of cocaine addiction is that sufferers lose the ability to recognise loss. This can include anything from being fired from their job or their partner leaving them to being caught in possession of the drug and being sent to jail as a result.
Researchers think these findings could be key to understanding cocaine addiction and developing new and more effective treatments. Crucially, it also explains why addicts continue their destructive habit despite such huge personal setbacks.
The study focused on the difference between a likely loss or reward related to a person’s behaviour and their ability to predict the outcome of that behaviour. The measurement, known as Reward Prediction Error (RPE) is believed to drive learning in humans which guides future behaviour.
The study recorded the brain activity of two different groups - cocaine users and healthy controls - whilst they played a gambling game. Each person had to predict whether or not they would win or lose money on each trial.
The results revealed that the group of cocaine users had impaired loss prediction signaling, meaning that they failed to trigger RPE signals in response to worse than expected outcomes compared to the healthy subjects.
The lead author of the study, Doctor Muhammad Parvaz commented:
“This study shows that individuals with substance use disorder have difficulty computing the difference between expected versus unexpected outcomes, which is crucial for learning and future decision-making. This impairment might underlie disadvantageous decision-making in these individuals.”
To learn more about cocaine addiction, check out our Cocaine Knowledge Centre. If you are worried that you or someone you know may have a problem with cocaine, please feel free to visit our Cocaine Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation page for more information or contact us today.