AUSTIN, Texas—A University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy researcher has received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a drug abuse study on improving treatment strategies for cocaine addiction.
The five-year grant, titled “Cocaine and Brain: Progressive Changes inBehavior,” is being funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse of theNIH. According to researcher Christine Duvauchelle, cocaine has the unique abilityto elicit learned associations between its pleasurable effects and the surroundingdrug-taking environment.
“Treatment for cocaine addiction has not been particularly successful,” Duvauchelle said. “The biggest problem with cocaine addiction is not withdrawal from the drug, it’s relapse.”
Learned associations develop between cocaine use and environmental stimuli, she said, making it different from other kinds of drug abuse and harder for a person to remain abstinent.
“For example, seeing people, places, objects or even smelling odors associated with a person’s cocaine-taking past can cause them to relapse,” said Duvauchelle. “Cocaine use seems to cause an exaggerated learning effect as it takes advantage of the brain’s natural reward system.”
The research involves studying cocaine-seeking behavior and reward processes in the brain. Looking at the brain’s responses to cocaine use and cocaine-associated learning that occur over time, Duvauchelle has developed a model for her research into the brain’s responses to cocaine and associated environments, and the effects of altering a subject’s expectation of getting cocaine.
Study results will help scientists determine not only why cocaine is so addictive, but also when and how to treat addicts.
“We are poised to make a significant impact on the field of drug abuse and brain reward systems,” Duvauchelle said.
For more information contact: Nancy Neff, 512-471-6504.