New Research Reveals Impact of Cocaine Addiction on the Brain

There are several popular misconceptions circulating in society today as to what exactly addiction is, and whether or not addiction should be treated as a disease by health professionals.  To many scientists, addiction has long been associated as a by-product of altered mental states where the brain cannot distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behavior.  For example, addictions manifested in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) are thought to arise from abnormal neuron firing in the brain; in other words, the brain of an addict displays the same need for the desired object in the same way that one would crave basic necessities like food or water.  However, scientists from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine have revealed surprising information on how an addiction can actually alter the activity of certain proteins and neurons in the brain. This new research can help scientists understand why addiction is so hard to overcome, and how to effectively prevent and treat addict relapses. By administering injections of cocaine to a group of monkeys (who share many similar genes to that of humans) and comparing their brain functions to a control group of monkeys who did not receive drugs, scientists were able to see that several biochemical changes occurred in the monkeys who received the drugs.  Simply put, the monkeys who received the cocaine injections soon developed a biological dependence on the drug, which has given scientists and doctors new information in the battle against addiction. According to one scientist who participated in the study, the cocaine changed the structure of neurons and protein activity, which explains why many addicts find it so hard to continue in their quest to quit drugs after a relapse.  It’s an important step in realizing the kind of obstacles addicts have to overcome in the fight against addiction, and why relapse is not only likely – it should be expected.  Since the experiment has shown that the brain is essentially programmed and conditioned to need the cocaine after only a few injections, it should provide doctors, therapists and society in general with a better understanding of what an addict must go through in order to win the battle against addiction. Additionally, as many medications are developed based on the understanding of how the human brain functions, this new information is vital for research scientists and pharmaceuticals looking to develop highly effective medication to treat addictive disorders.  Since popular misconceptions about addiction have indicated that abnormal brain activity leads to addiction, it’s important to realize that, very often, it’s addiction that leads to abnormal brain functions – thus, addiction should be looked at in a very new light! This study not only has an impact on developing medicine for addicts, but it will certainly help drug education to further deter individuals from even picking up the habit in the first place.  Since abusing drugs has very real long-term consequences, it’s important for drug educators to stress that quitting cold turkey will be very nearly impossible, as addiction biologically programs the brain to crave the desired drug.  Thus, an addict can never “stop” whenever he or she feels like, as research has shown that relapse is practically inevitable. This kind of research also helps to promote the theory that addiction should be treated as a disease instead of just a psychological disorder.  Since debate is still raging about whether or not addiction is a disease, this study provides further evidence that addiction is founded in abnormal biochemical compositions; thus, it should be treated by doctors and scientists as a highly debilitating disease.

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