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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Addicts Make Riskier Decisions

It is hardly a secret that people who abuse drugs and alcohol often make rash decisions that can greatly impact their life. People under the influence of alcohol will often choose to get behind the wheel of a car. Heroin addicts will inject another dose despite the risk of overdose, while already sufficiently intoxicated. Inside each addict and alcoholic is a force that is not acting with their well-being in mind.

Researchers continue to probe the mind to better understand what is operating. And in some cases, they would like to better understand the decision-making product of people with substance use disorders. New findings suggest that cocaine addicts make riskier decisions, because of an exaggerated decrease in the reward processing region of the brain, according to a press release. The findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

The researchers came to their findings by using gambling models, or what are known as a Risky Gains Task, according to the report. They compared the data from 29 people diagnosed with cocaine use disorder to 40 control participants. The participants were asked to perform a Risky Gains Task, where they could earn money by selecting between three monetary values -- the lowest value being the safest option and higher values being riskier. While undergoing the task, participants' behaviors were observed and neuroimaging was conducted. The findings could lead to a way of tracking the progress of a cocaine addicts recovery.

"This paradoxical relationship between how someone acts in response to a loss can give us clues for how to develop better interventions and how to track the recovery of the brain from cocaine addiction," said first author Joshua Gowin, of the University of California San Diego. 

Observations indicated that as potential monetary value increased, the control group and cocaine addict group made different choices. Neuroimaging showed a proportional increase in activity of the ventral striatum in the brains of the control group, not seen in the cocaine use disorder group, the article reports. The ventral striatum is believed to be important for processing of rewards. The researchers believe that the risky behavior exhibited by cocaine addicts was not motivated by reward.

"In an interesting parallel to their real life behavior, brain activity and choice behavior during a gambling task used in this study indicate an aberrant sensitivity to loss and a tendency to double down and make risky choices," said Cameron Carter, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

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