The use of cocaine is down from what it once was, as many addicts looking for a jolt have turned to the cheaper and stronger methamphetamine. There was a time when cocaine was flooding the streets of major cities, and in the 80’s, like opioids today, there was a cocaine epidemic. While it may be easy to think that the drug no longer holds the appeal to addicts that it once did, the reality is that there are still a number of people abusing the drug.
New research has found that the use of cocaine inhibits users from learning from their mistakes, which could help us understand why people who use the drug make many destructive decisions, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Researchers found, by measuring electrical activity in the region of the brain associated with managing errors in reward prediction, that the habitual use of cocaine alters brain circuits that help people learn from mistakes. In the midbrain, when things go better than expected, neurons release and absorb more dopamine, according to the article. When expectations are not met, nerve cells release less of the chemical. When outcomes were in line with one’s predictions, neurons release a steady amount of dopamine.
The study included 75 people, who played a computer gambling game where they had to predict if they would win or lose money on each turn. Participants who used cocaine regularly exhibited no significant difference between expected and unexpected losses. Whereas non-cocaine users had a greater feedback signal for unexpected outcomes.
“This study shows that individuals with substance use disorder have difficulty computing the difference between expected versus unexpected outcomes, which is critical for learning and future decision making,” study lead researcher, Muhammad Parvaz of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York said in a news release. “This impairment might underlie disadvantageous decision making in these individuals.”
The study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.