Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Stress and Coke Addiction

According to the Trimbos Institute, anyone who sniffs cocaine once has a 15 to 20% likelihood of becoming addicted to this hard drug. Why does the recreational user only try it once whereas another person becomes physically and mentally dependent on the drug? Behavioural Pharmacologist Inge de Jong, attached to the LUMC (Leiden University Medical Center) and the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, sought an explanation in the effect of stress hormones.
How does a person become addicted to cocaine? The more frequently an individual uses the drug, the greater the desire for it becomes, and certain physical reactions also become increasingly stronger. This effect is called sensitisation. De Jong examined how sensitisation is affected by two hormones which are produced by the adrenal glands: adrenaline and corticosterone. She also investigated whether this relation is dependent on the individual’s genetic code. ‘Certain people are by nature more sensitive than others to developing an addiction,’ according to De Jong.. . .

In stressful situations, when there is an external threat, for example, adrenaline and corticosterone are excreted to allow the body to take action. They cause the heart to beat faster and increase the blood supply to the muscles. Normally this response has a functional purpose, such as being able to escape quickly from a threatening situation. In a person using cocaine, however, these stress hormones might have the undesirable effect of encouraging addiction, as they affect those areas of the brain that cause the body to crave more of the drug.
De Jong sees in these results some opportunities for the treatment of addicts. ‘If we can block the unwanted effects of the stress hormone medicinally, we may possibly be able to reduce the need for cocaine. Not everyone is genetically sensitive to addiction, but stress is certainly a risk factor to which we must pay more attention in people who are in danger of becoming addicted to cocaine.’


[See also this great Denver Post piece that Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage found on a psychotherapy/pharmacological program for addicted teens in CO that seems to be having success. The article notes the problems of co-occurring disorders of mental health and substance abuse that cause difficulties in treatment, but this program offers promise to overcome most of those.]

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