Cocaine addicts may have more difficulty recognizing the effects of bad decisions, because the drug may actually impair the circuits in the brain responsible for recognizing and predicting loss, according to a new study.
The research, published in The Journal of Neuroscience on Tuesday, may help to explain why it's so difficult for users to quit even after suffering imprisonment, broken relationships or other personal problems. It could also provide a warning of sorts to cocaine users engaged in activities such as high-level decision making—or investing.
"The human species is guided by the prospect of maximizing rewards and minimizing costs," said Rita Goldstein, one of the scientists on the research team. "We see that everywhere, from basic survival—getting food and avoiding the poisonous stuff—to relationships and work in the modern world. If people cannot predict losses, their long-term planning and decision-making will be very different. This type of brain-activity loss might be contributing to a downward spiral in addicts."
A team of researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai recorded the brain activity of 50 cocaine users and 25 nonusers while they played a gambling game. The scientists were specifically examining the signals in the brain that help humans predict the possible rewards and punishments that might result from a decision.