Study find drug repairs cocaine damage

Last updated 15:24 26/03/2014
COKE CURE? University of Sydney researchers discover damage done to the body by cocaine use can be treated with an an antioxidant drug.

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Cocaine causes a loss of control across many areas of life, according to a study that shows it damages the decision-making part of the brain.

The good news is the damage can be reversed with an antioxidant drug.

But so far that's been proved only if the user is a lab rat.

University of Sydney scientists found cocaine produced changes to parts of the brain that allow flexible decision-making rather than the part that controls habits.

"That surprised us a little," said lead researcher Dr Laura Corbit from the University of Sydney School of Psychology.

"Rats exposed to cocaine form habits unrelated to drugs much more quickly than rats not exposed to cocaine."

This could be because reduced flexibility leads to impaired decision-making.

However, rats treated with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine regained normal decision-making ability, she said.

"The animals are indistinguishable from animals that never received cocaine."

The findings are important because recovery from addiction involves major changes.

"People have to change their life in ways that extend beyond just not using the drug," Corbit said.

"Antioxidant medication might help them break the cycle of habit and allow them to regain control over their life and make better decisions."

It might also help them be more receptive to other types of treatment that teach them new things, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Corbit and Professor Bernard Balleine from the university's Brain Mind Research Institute have published a paper on their research in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

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