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Cocaine leads to information overload

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Cocaine can hijack the brain.

Once taken, recovery for a user is a long and difficult road, with life threatening risks and ruined social interactions hindering their ability to stop taking the drug. Research from the University of Malta has now revealed a possible explanation for cocaine relapse.Around the world, 21 million people take cocaine. Unfortunately, even one-time or occasional users can become addicts.  This makes recovery a lengthy lifelong process with numerous challenges.  Regardless of how tough a user is or how hard they try, relapsing after detoxification or rehabilitation always remains a sombre possibility.

To discover why cocaine addicts are prone to relapse, Roderick Spiteri (supervised by Prof. Richard Muscat) compared 19 cocaine users to 19 average individuals. Using methods developed in Bordeaux, both groups were tested on their ability to filter out useful information from a torrent of noise. For people to function they need to extract information by blocking irrelevant clatter. This prevents sensory and cognitive overload. When an individual attempts to deal with too much information it leads to errors and poor choices.

The research shows how cocaine users lose their ability to block irrelevant information that leads to cognitive overload. This is like a virus causing a computer system to crash, leaving only one choice: restart. Sadly, the same cannot be done for a cocaine addict. Cognitive overload leads to an inability to choose, usually leading to bad decisions. Integrating this new knowledge to psychological treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy might help addicts on the long road of recovery and social integration. If everyday situations are likely to overwhelm a cocaine user’s brain, they may need more frequent breaks between tasks in order to cope.

This research was performed as part of a Masters in Biomedical Science from the Faculty of Medicine & Surgery.


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1 Comment

  1. My residency in The Bahamas from the early 1970’s thru what was a catastrophic period of the 1980’s Cocaine invasion and the results very clearly indicate that first try is alike Eve tempting Adam… the craving for the next hit – high is multiple. The social consequences of a Cocaine habit can be devastating on you personally and your family or close partners. In the case of The Bahamas 1980’s high HIV-AIDS came along….. do I need to say anything more….. within a short timeframe The Bahamas was the highest per capita country with HIV-AIDS. Government has expended millions to bring this under control… the Bahamas model is used around the world.
    The use of marijuana cannot be under estimated….. any use of a young person, say from low teens thru formative years of the brain, mid-20’s can cause as much damage as cocaine use….. extremely damaging to the brain and impact on the education of the child…… the average examination grades in the Bahamas are at a high -D level. Regular use of marijuana negatively impacts the natural control of your physical reaction to a challenge…. it impedes judgment so you have a higher incidence of serious crime.
    Alcohol is the same….
    The old adage what is not natural don’t consume is probably the best advice.

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