Study Shows Cocaine Addicts Prone To Resisting Change

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Study Shows Cocaine Addicts Prone To Resisting Change

A recent study published in the journal Science revealed that people addicted to cocaine may be apt to resisting change. That is, they tend to develop habits which lead to behavioral resistance to change – even in the face of negative consequences.

In the study, 125 participants were tested. They included 72 who were addicted to cocaine, and 53 with no drug addiction history.

In one experiment, the participants were asked to identify the relationship between pictures. They were awarded points for a correct response. However, after some training, participants were told that some pictures no longer earned points.

As a result, cocaine addicts were more apt to respond automatically, regardless of a lack of reward. Moreover, they were more likely to repeat the same responses if they had been rewarded for those responses previously. And they continued to do this, even if their actions made little sense.

In another experiment, participants were shown two different pictures. They were then trained to associate them with receiving an electrical shock. They were also taught how to avoid shocks by pushing a foot pedal. In this case, they were less likely than other participants to even make an effort to avoid the shocks. Researchers say this could be due to learning or motivational impairment.

Dr. Karen Ershe, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge:

“Our experiments highlight the particular difficulties faced when it comes to changing behavior in people with cocaine addiction: They are highly responsive if their behavior is rewarded — for example a ‘high’ from drug use — but then quickly switch to autopilot, becoming unable to change that behavior in light of different consequences.”

“By contrast, when cocaine users are facing adversity, they are less inclined than healthy people to do something about it.”


These findings may have significant implications for cocaine addiction treatment, and reveal that a new approach may be needed. Currently, treatment for cocaine addiction largely consists of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Researchers are currently striving to better understand the brain of the cocaine addict, and to use this information to develop more effective treatment.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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