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Long-term cocaine users can lose some of their ability to memorize and remember even simple items and can have their decision-making abilities impaired, according to a study of the brains of cocaine abusers.
Chronic cocaine abuse is directly related to dysfunction in areas of the brain involved in higher thought and decision-making. Researchers say the resulting cognitive deficits may help explain why cocaine abusers persist in using the drug or return to it after a period of abstinence.
The study was conducted by Dr. Robert Hester of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and Dr. Hugh Garavan of Trinity College and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
"Addictive substances such as cocaine can damage the dopamine system in the brain, and there is a high concentration of dopamine receptors in brain regions involved in higher-order decision-making processes," says NIDA Director Dr.
Nora D. Volkow, in a news release. "By employing functional neuroimaging to examine the neural changes that often result from chronic cocaine abuse, these scientists have identified another aspect of cocaine's effect on the brain that may help explain why individuals persist in these behaviors despite the negative consequences."
In the study, the scientists enlisted 15 active cocaine abusers and 15 healthy individuals who have never used the drug. Each participant completed a task in which they viewed memory lists of letters for six seconds and "rehearsed" each list for 8 seconds.
They later pressed a button when they were presented with a letter that was not part of the preceding list. During the task, the participants' brains were analyzed via functional magnetic resonance imaging that illustrates nerve cell activity during the performance of a specific task.
Source: The study was published in the November 17, 2004 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
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