Cocaine Binges Are About Avoiding Emotional Lows, Study Says

By McCarton Ackerman 12/03/13

Meanwhile, the use of cocaine has dropped dramatically in the United States, with the number of overall addicts dropping almost 50% over five years.

Losing its popularity?
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Heavy cocaine users may binge on the drug not to seek a high, but rather to avoid a low. That’s according to the findings of a new study published in Psychopharmacology, which says that avoiding emotional lows could play a major role in cocaine binges. Using lab rats for their study, Rutgers University Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Professor Mark West, who led the study, said the initial positive feelings associated with the drug were short-lived and “quickly replaced by negative emotional responses whenever drug levels begin to fall.”

West and his team evaluated the pitch of the calls made by the rats after they binged on drugs, noting that high-pitched calls were common in the first 35 to 40 minutes after use. "Then if the animals are kept at their desired level, you don’t observe positive or negative calls. But as soon as the drug level starts to fall off, they make these negative calls,” said doctoral student David Barker, who co-authored the study. West confirmed that the “results suggest that once the animals started a binge, they may have felt trapped and didn’t like it.”

However, cocaine binges may be less frequent overall because cocaine use has dropped dramatically in the U.S. The White House’s Office of National Drug Policy said the number of U.S. cocaine users dropped from 2.4 million in 2006 to 1.4 million in 2011. The number of cocaine addicts fell from 1.7 million to 800,000 during that same time period, while the number of first-time users during those years was reduced from one million to 670,000.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.