Regular Cocaine Use Appears to Damage Social Skills
Cocaine is a stimulant derived from the coca plant which grows in the Andes Mountains. The powdered drug can be snorted or mixed with water and injected. Another form of the drug, known as crack, is smoked. The drug is highly addictive. It makes users feel highly energetic and supercharged with pleasurable emotions and frenetic thinking and speech. Users report sharpened awareness along with an overblown sense of self and personal ability.
A study conducted at the University of Zurich finds that chronic users experience a steep decline in their ability to connect with others and properly socialize. It is known that using cocaine can cause lasting harm to the brain, especially in terms of memory impairment and an inability to focus or concentrate. The drug also leads to an increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
The researchers wanted to examine cocaine’s effect on socialization. To find out how cocaine impacts social interactions, the scientists divided their subjects into two groups – one comprised of regular cocaine users, the second a control group made up of non-users.
The researchers watched to see what happened inside the brains of the subjects during various social occasions. The users showed less brain activity when it came to social reward, meaning cocaine users didn’t find much pleasure or fulfillment in social encounters.
Those in the chronic use group had a hard time seeing things from another person’s perspective and showed markedly lower empathy. They also had trouble picking up on non-verbal clues such as tone of voice. In addition, cocaine users tended to remain disengaged during social opportunities.
Regular cocaine use seems to dull the brain’s reward system so that interacting with others holds little appeal. This negative effect of using the drug may help explain why users are so seldom motivated to change by things like loss of a job or breaks in family relationships and friendships. Chronic use of cocaine causes a person to devalue relationships.
The study reveals how very isolating cocaine use can become. The way that cocaine works in the brain leaves users less motivated to work at relationships. This means that with greater use comes greater secrecy as no one is near enough to see the danger signs. Without the relational restraints cocaine users can sink into dangerously risky habits.
The researchers emphasize the need to help cocaine abusers re-learn social skills once they do make it into rehab. They will need to be re-taught many of the nuances of human interaction that those who’ve never used cocaine rely on without a thought.