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Cocaine is addictive, and researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are trying to figure out why, aside from the obvious reason that drugs are fun.


A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience investigates how cocaine addiction works in rats. Sara R. Jones, the lead author of the study and professor of pharmacology and physiology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, explained that since scientists are aware that cocaine has an affect on “the dopamine system and dopamine transporters,” she wanted to design a study “to gain a better understanding of how tolerance to cocaine develops via the dopamine transporters.”

First, the team of scientists got the rats addicted to cocaine by allowing them to consume up to 40 doses per every six hours for a period of five days. Then, the rats were prohibited from consuming cocaine for either 14 days or 60 days. They examined cocaine-deprived rats’ dopamine transporters and found that “they appeared normal, just like those in the control animals that had only received saline.”


Here’s where it gets interesting: Even after a full 60 days of being cocaine-free, if a formerly heavy cocaine-using rat got another taste, the dose “fully reinstated tolerance to cocaine’s effects.”

What this suggests is that addiction, at least in the case of cocaine, has permanent effects. Jones said,

Even after 60 days of abstinence, which is roughly equivalent to four years in humans, it only took a single dose of cocaine to put the rats back to square one with regard to its’ dopamine system and tolerance levels, and increased the likelihood of binging again. It’s that terrible cycle of addiction.

The study, in part, provides a small amount of physiological evidence which supports a pretty traditional addiction narrative: When an addict decides to get sober, they must completely abstain from substances to avoid relapse.


Jones is hopeful about some upcoming “preclinical trials that are testing several amphetamine-like drugs for effectiveness in treating cocaine addiction.” Get rid of your cocaine addiction by using speed? What could go wrong with that?

[Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center via Science Daily]