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Molecule in brain linked with cocaine addiction: Study

Cocaine is one of the most common drugs used by adults and teens alike. Many people use the drug for recreational purposes to boost their mood and energy or to achieve the high, but they ultimately get hooked on to the drug, which often leads to an addiction. Numerous studies have attributed cocaine addiction to various factors such as social, environmental or genetic, but nothing much was done to explain what makes an addict continue to take drugs compulsively, despite knowing its harmful effects.

A new study, published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry, by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), La Jolla, California suggested that increased levels of a particular brain molecule, known as hypocretin, may contribute to cocaine addiction. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Hypocretin system could be considered a pharmacological target

According to the researchers, hypocretin, a neurotransmitter located in the central amygdala which regulates wakefulness, arousal, and appetite, may influence the brain’s reaction to addictive substances, such as cocaine, nicotine and opioids, and the compulsive drug-seeking behavior might be reduced if the neurotransmitter could be blocked.

“The results of this study would suggest that the hypocretin system could be considered a pharmacological target, with the hopes that such a medication could be used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapies,” said the study’s co-author Brooke Schmeichel from the NIDA.

The research was based on an animal model where one group of rats were allowed an unlimited access to cocaine for one hour per day, and another group had the option to self-administer the drug for six hours in a day. While the first group corresponded to a short-term drug use, the second group was typical of compulsive drug use that leads to addiction.

On observing both the groups, the researchers found that compulsive drug use triggered a dangerous cycle in the brains of the animals in the second group by impacting the hypothalamic hypocretin/orexin (HCRT) system – the brain’s network that transmits signals between different regions. A compulsive use of the drug led to increased levels of hypocretin, which further contributed to the overactivity of the central amygdala, instigating an anxiety-like state in the animals, and thereby, contributing to their drug-seeking behavior.

“The rats escalate their daily intake as many human users would,” said co-author Marisa Roberto, professor at TSRI. However, on using an antagonist to block HCRT activity at one of the two HCRT receptors in the central amygdala, the researchers noticed a reduction in the animals’ drug-seeking behavior.

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant with the potency to make a person addicted to it. A repeated use of the drug often leads to abuse and addiction. Addiction to any drug, including cocaine, is harmful. In order to avoid harmful impacts of drugs, it is always advisable to stay away from them in the first place.

Seeking professional help

Despite receiving treatment, many addicts often exhibit tendencies to relapse. Achieving complete abstinence is the toughest part of the recovery process, though it is not something that cannot be achieved. However, by choosing the right treatment facility, one can ensure the first step toward recovery and relapse prevention.

If you or someone you know is addicted to any drug, get help immediately. You can get in touch with 24/7 Recovery Helpline for instant assistance on drug addiction rehab centers for your addiction problem. You may call us at our helpline number 855-441-4405 or chat online with one of our representatives to know about various drug abuse treatment centers in your vicinity.


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