A new study just published in Addiction Biology has shown alterations in the functioning and structure of the brain of cocaine users.
Cocaine users and non-users were asked to perform gambling task while their brain activities were recorded by MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging); increased activity was noticed in a particular part of the brain that controls actions with reward or gratification such as eating and sex. There was hyperactivity in this part of the brain of cocaine user whether the person is winning or not, while the activity is less in non-user whether he is winning or not. This area of the brain is called the Ventral striatum and is responsible for impulsive behaviour.
But there is another part of the brain which controls our behaviour, inhibiting impulsive behaviour, called the Pre-frontal cortex. When the non-user is losing there is a lot of activity in this area, apparently reacting to the loss. However there is no activity in this part of the brain when a cocaine user is losing, there is no reaction to misfortune and hence he will not see it as a misfortune.
There is also a difference in the grey and white matter of the brain in cocaine users; the former is bigger in areas of the brain which control impulsive behaviour while the latter which is responsible for carrying messages to different parts of the brain is less in areas responsible for controlled behaviour and attention span.
The study was done at a University in Barcelona, Spain.