Cocaine users enjoy social interactions less

January 20, 2014
Cocaine users show low activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex.

Regular cocaine users have difficulties in feeling empathy for others and they exhibit less prosocial behavior. A study at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Zurich now suggests that cocaine users have social deficits because social contacts are less rewarding for them. Social skills should therefore be trained during the treatment of cocaine addiction.

In Europe as well as worldwide, cocaine is the second most frequently used drug after cannabis. Chronic cocaine users display worse memory performance, concentration difficulties, and attentional deficits but also their are affected as previous studies at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Zurich suggested. These investigations also revealed that cocaine users have difficulties to take the mental perspective of others, show less emotional empathy, find it more difficult to recognize emotions from voices, behave in a less prosocial manner in social interactions, and they reported fewer social contacts. Moreover, worse emotional empathy was correlated with a smaller social network. The scientists now assume that social cognitive deficits contribute to the development and perpetuation of .

In their current investigation published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the psychologists Katrin Preller und Boris Quednow, Head of the Division of Experimental and ClinicalPharmacopsychology at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Zurich, conclude that impaired skills of cocaine users could be explained by a blunted response to social reward.

Social interaction is less rewarding

The research team demonstrated that cocaine users perceived joined attention – the shared attentional focus of two persons on an object after gaze contact – as less rewarding compared to drug-naive healthy controls. In a subsequent functional imaging experiment they showed that cocaine users showed a blunted activation of a crucial part of the reward system – the so called medial orbitofrontal cortex – during this basal kind of social interaction. Interestingly, a weaker activation of the medial orbitofrontal cortex during social gaze contact was also associated with fewer social contacts in the past weeks. Quednow explains: "Cocaine users perceive social exchange as less positive and rewarding compared to people who do not use this stimulant".

As proposed by Preller and Quednow, such changes in brain function might help to explain why dependent often fail to stop using drugs despite the occurrence of severe social consequences such as familial problems, loss of friends or employment. Reduced reward during social interactions might also explain why many cocaine dependent individuals loose supportive social contacts during the course of their drug career, which probably further contributes to the maintenance of addiction. Given that social reward is important for successful psychotherapy, Preller and Quednow suggest: "Social skills, such as empathy, mental perspective taking, and , should be trained during the treatment of to enhance the efficacy and sustainability of the treatment".

Explore further: Promising new drug targets for cocaine addiction found

More information: Katrin H. Preller, Marcus Herdener, Leonhard Schilbach, Philipp Stämpfli, Lea M. Hulka, Matthias Vonmoos, Nina Ingold, Kai Vogeley, Philippe N. Tobler, Erich Seifritz and Boris B. Quednow. Functional changes of the reward system underlie blunted response to social gaze in cocaine users. PNAS. January 20, 2014. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1317090111

Related Stories

Promising new drug targets for cocaine addiction found

January 20, 2014
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have identified a new molecular mechanism by which cocaine alters the brain's reward circuits and causes addiction. Published online in the journal Proceedings ...

Addiction: Can you ever really completely leave it behind?

September 23, 2013
It is often said that once people develop an addiction, they can never completely eliminate their attraction to the abused substance. New findings provide further support for this notion by suggesting that even long-term ...

Sons of cocaine-using fathers may resist addiction to drug, study suggests

November 11, 2013
A father's cocaine use may make his sons less sensitive to the drug and thereby more likely to resist addictive behaviors, suggests new findings from an animal study presented by Penn Medicine researchers at Neuroscience ...

Abnormal brain structure linked to chronic cocaine abuse

June 21, 2011
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified abnormal brain structures in the frontal lobe of cocaine users' brains which are linked to their compulsive cocaine-using behaviour. Their findings were published ...

Regular cocaine and cannabis use may trigger addictive behaviours

October 28, 2013
New cocaine and cannabis research reveals that regular cannabis users have increased levels of impulsive behaviour. It had previously been argued that this increased impulsivity after cannabis administration was only experienced ...

How the brain puts the brakes on the negative impact of cocaine

January 11, 2012
Research published by Cell Press in the January 12 issue of the journal Neuron provides fascinating insight into a newly discovered brain mechanism that limits the rewarding impact of cocaine. The study describes protective ...

Recommended for you

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Neuroticism may postpone death for some

July 24, 2017
Data from a longitudinal study of over 500,000 people in the United Kingdom indicate that having higher levels of the personality trait neuroticism may reduce the risk of death for individuals who report being in fair or ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.