Cocaine brain revealed

Some people have brains that allow them to avoid becoming addicted to drugs as powerful as cocaine, British researchers have revealed.

The study at Cambridge University, UK, has found that some "recreational" drug users have abnormally large front lobes in the brain.

This is the part of the brain linked to self-control, they say, and the unusual brain size was found in drug users who have not developed dependence.

The researchers stress that only a minority of the drug users they tested were not dependent on drugs. They found links with high levels of education and stable family backgrounds to lack of dependency.

They say they believe the unusual brain structure pre-dates drug use.

And, in contrast, those dependent on the drug had front lobes significantly reduced in size.

They have reported their findings in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The researchers say brain scans might help tailor the right treatments for different drug users.

The research found that both kinds of drug users showed sensation-seeking personality traits. But the tendency to be impulsive and compulsive was only linked to dependence.

Researcher Dr Karen Ersche said: "These findings are important because they show that the use of cocaine does not inevitably lead to addiction in people with good self-control and no familial risk.

"Our findings indicate that preventative strategies might be more effective if they were tailored more closely to those individuals at risk according to their personality profile and brain structure."

The research follows a British Medical Association report calling for drug addicts to be treated as a health problem, not a legal problem.

Biological Psychiatry January 2013

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