Rum and 'coke' combo far worse on the brain, study shows

June 26, 2000

In what seems at first an obvious conclusion, researchers at Johns Hopkins and The National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that people who "do" both cocaine and alcohol risk a worse loss of brain function than those who frequently use either drug alone.

"You could say this is a 'no brainer' sort of study," says Hopkins neuropsychologist Karen Bolla, Ph.D., who led the research team. "That two drugs are worse than one is something you'd expect. But very little science exists on how using both drugs affects the brain. Since cocaine and alcohol use often go hand-in-hand in the real world," Bolla says, "these studies were acutely needed." One result of the study, for example, suggests that cocaine use may somehow make the brain more sensitive, lowering the amount of alcohol it takes to hobble brain abilities, she adds.

In a report this week in the journal Neurology, the researchers gave 56 chronic cocaine abusers a battery of neuropsychological tests, each geared to measure a specific brain ability. All the participants also drank liquor, but half of them drank more than10 times a week.

The coke/alcohol users had been "dry" for at least a day at the time they were first tested. They were tested again after four weeks of abstinence.

Results showed that each drug takes a unique toll. "We found that people with a heavy use of alcohol don't do as well at executive abilities like planning ahead and organizing," says Bolla. "Those with a heavy cocaine habit have less ability to concentrate and score higher in impulsive activity. The take-home message is that taking both drugs is additive users experience the whole range of losses. "

One of the study's strengths, says Bolla, was that researchers questioned people on their lifetime drug use and translated that into specific numerical results. For the first time, she said, scientists could show how the degree of a person's drug habit relates to brain performance. For both cocaine and alcohol, she adds, the greater the weekly drug amount, the worse people do.

"This research won't cure anything, but could improve ways we treat addiction," Bolla explains. "All the years of 'reefer madness' stories have done little to discourage people from becoming addicted. But here are hard data. This is real. When we tell people, 'Look. High doses of these drugs can do this,' we hope now they'll listen.

"One other major benefit of this study lies in helping to tailor addiction treatment," says Bolla. "Long-term use of these drugs actually is damaging to the very parts of the brain that make it possible to quit. So you have to work around that."

"If you did these cognitive tests on people as soon as they begin a treatment program, you'd know, for example, that visual memory's knocked out. So you could present things verbally. You'd know that people who don't have executive skills can't make a plan of action and carry it out. So you find another approach."

Other scientists in the study were Jean Lud Cadet, M.D., with NIDA, and Frank R. Funderburk with In Compass Systems, Baltimore.
-end-
NIDA funding supported the research.

Related Web Sites: http://www.nida.nih.gov

Media Contact: Marjorie Centofanti (410)955-8725 Email: mcentofanti@jhmi.edu

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' news releases are available on an EMBARGOED basis on EurekAlert at http://www.eurekalert.org, Newswise at http://www.newswise.com and from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs' direct e-mail news release service. To enroll, call 410-955-4288 or send e-mail to bsimpkins@jhmi.edu.

On a POST-EMBARGOED basis find them at http://hopkins.med.jhu.edu, Quadnet at http://www.quad-net.com and ScienceDaily at http://www.sciencedaily.com.

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Related Cocaine Articles from Brightsurf:

Sleep-deprived mice find cocaine more rewarding
Sleep deprivation may pave the way to cocaine addiction. Too-little sleep can increase the rewarding properties of cocaine, according to new research in mice published in eNeuro.

Nucleus accumbens recruited by cocaine, sugar are different
In a study using genetically modified mice, a University of Wyoming faculty member found that the nucleus accumbens recruited by cocaine use are largely distinct from nucleus accumbens recruited by sucrose, or table sugar.

Astrocytes build synapses after cocaine use in mice
Drugs of abuse, like cocaine, are so addictive due in part to their cellular interaction, creating strong cellular memories in the brain that promote compulsive behaviors.

Of all professions, construction workers most likely to use opioids and cocaine
Construction workers are more likely to use drugs than workers in other professions, finds a study by the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) at NYU College of Global Public Health.

Chronic cocaine use modifies gene expression
Chronic cocaine use changes gene expression in the hippocampus, according to research in mice recently published in JNeurosci.

Blocking dopamine weakens effects of cocaine
Blocking dopamine receptors in different regions of the amygdala reduces drug seeking and taking behavior with varying longevity, according to research in rats published in eNeuro.

Born to run: just not on cocaine
A study finds a surprising response to cocaine in a novel strain of mutant mice -- they failed to show hyperactivity seen in normal mice when given cocaine and didn't run around.

Cocaine adulterant may cause brain damage
People who regularly take cocaine cut with the animal anti-worming agent levamisole demonstrate impaired cognitive performance and a thinned prefrontal cortex.

Setting affects pleasure of heroin and cocaine
Drug users show substance-specific differences in the rewarding effects of heroin versus cocaine depending on where they use the drugs, according to a study published in JNeurosci.

One in 10 people have traces of cocaine or heroin on their fingerprints
Scientists have found that drugs are now so prevalent that 13 percent of those taking part in a test were found to have traces of class A drugs on their fingerprints -- despite never using them.

Read More: Cocaine News and Cocaine Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.