What Makes Cocaine so Addictive?

The philosophy of free will is a doctrine which propagates that human conducts and personal choices are not determined by physical, biological or divine forces. However, there are various arguments in philosophical and scientific literature that question a person’s ability to make independent choices. Many experts believe such a perception to be just an illusion as personal choices may be greatly compromised by biological factors, personal trauma and changes in the brain.

Similarly, substance abuse in most of the cases is not merely a personal choice, but also the consequence of various factors. People indulging in drug abuse often underestimate their condition by underrating them as nothing more than a “recreational users.” A recent study published in Scientific Reports shed some light on the nature of addiction and free will among recreational cocaine users who may be much closer to developing an addiction than they would give credit for. The study focuses on some of the unique traits of the human brain that suggest the presence of a developing addiction much earlier than expected.

Drug abuse — voluntary response to habitual behavior

Cocaine use releases neurotransmitter dopamine that activates the brain’s reward system. The use of other potent hallucinogenic drugs is known to cause the same effect on the brain. The researchers highlighted an interesting finding that exposure to a visual cue, such as watching someone using cocaine, usually triggers dopamine release and leads to craving.

As addiction progresses, the cue-induced release of dopamine shifts to the dorsal striatum, a region deep within the brain that is associated with the way people respond to rewards. The role of the dorsal striatum is crucial to habit formation and reward-seeking behaviors. It also plays an important role in explaining how people should behave when they lose control of their drug-seeking behaviors.

This can be explained with the help of the following example of an ice cream. An individual may want to treat himself or herself to an ice cream because it makes one feel like beating the summer heat. However, it may be an automatic response for some regardless of the fact whether he or she enjoys the ice cream and its consequences, such as weight gain or other health hazards.

Therefore, such a dramatic change from voluntary to habitual behavioral patterns plays a pivotal role in eliciting uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior among the users. To better understand this effect, researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to examine the dorsal striatum of the recreational cocaine users. They created highly personalized cues by filming subjects taking cocaine in the lab with a friend with whom they had conducted numerous sessions before.

The researchers examined the brain of the participants who watched their friend taking drugs through a PET scan. It was found that exposure to cocaine-related cues increased both cravings and dopamine release in the dorsal striatum. The study concluded that in the cumulative effect of such brain triggers could increase the risk of developing an addiction in the long run, thereby suggesting that many recreational users of cocaine and other drugs may be closer to addiction than what they would like to believe.

Drug addiction is real

Drugs and other substances have the potential to trigger an addiction regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or social status. Drug use can rewire the brain and cause problems, such as memory loss, cognitive impairment and mood swings. Therefore, seeking early intervention is advisable to avoid the problem of drug abuse getting out of hand.

If you or your loved one is battling drug abuse, it is important to seek help. The California Drug Addiction Helpline can assist in accessing one of the best drug rehab centers in California that specializes in delivering evidence-based intervention plans. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855–980–1946 to know more about the drug abuse treatments near you.

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