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Drug addicts seek to avoid lows, not to pursue highs, study suggests

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A recent study suggests that drug addicts do not seek, in their compulsive drug use, are not necessarily (or perhaps even primarily) driven in their drug use to pursue euphoric highs. Instead, the study suggests that being cognizant of the possibility that the addict is seeking to avoid unbearable or intolerable negative emotions is at least as important, if not more important. According to Mark West, a Rutgers University Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Professor, and David Barker of the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and sciences, animal studies indicate that in at least some cases, users are driven by extreme negative emotions to numb themselves with their drug of choice.

If these animal models are a mirror into human addiction, Rutgers researchers say that addicts who learned to use drugs to either achieve a positive emotional state or to relieve a negative one are vulnerable to situations that trigger either behavior.
"Our results suggest that once the animals started a binge, they may have felt trapped and didn't like it," said West. "This showed us that negative emotions play an equal, if not more important role in regulating cocaine abuse"(Rutgers University, 2013)

The Rutgers researchers found that the laboratory rats' high-pitched calls (which communicate positive emotion and euphoria) lasted 35-40 minutes into the experiment, but after this there are no calls until the drug begins to wear off, at which point the rats beginning emitting negative calls.

The Rutgers researchers say this animal study may lead to a better understanding of human addiction -- alcohol, tobacco and food -- as well as substance abuse. The reason animal studies are critical in addiction research, they say, is that human responses are not always reliable. Individuals may be too embarrassed to answer truthfully or may just tell the scientist what they think he or she wants to hear.

"It's not that human studies aren't important, they certainly are," said West. "But with these animal studies it is clear that we should be placing just as much importance on the negative as being a trigger for drug abuse and deal with that as well""(Rutgers University, 2013)

Rutgers University. (2013, November 6). Addicts may be seeking relief from emotional lows more than euphoric highs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131106152445.htm

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