Alcohol may very well be the gateway drugs addictions experts have been warning about for years. As it turns out, in a new study, using alcohol could make one more susceptible to cocaine use.
In the new study, researchers claim that when rats are given alcohol and then, ten days later, given cocaine, they are more likely to exhibit addictive behaviors. The rats were given alcohol every day for almost two weeks and then given cocaine to find that they would even risk definite electric shock to get their fix. Also, the researchers say that “addicted” rats would press a lever 563 times to get the drug (as opposed to 310 lever pulls among rats with no alcohol history).
Published mid-week in the journal Science Advances, the study actually suggests that rats given alcohol were three times more likely to be addicted to cocaine. More importantly, scientists are now looking at this correlation to investigate how alcohol can, in fact, as a gateway drug to influence how the brain responds to other substances.
Conducted at the Columbia University Medical, in New York City, the research was led by assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, Dr. Edmund Griffin Jr. The team found that while previous studies have shown addiction to cocaine is definitely linked with other substances—including alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana—it has not been very clear how certain environmental risks could drive addictive behavior in different ways in different people.
What we have known, however, is that the brain has a reward pathway called the mesolimbic dopamine system. This system can be stimulated by several environmental factors which can include very common things like food and sex, and of course alcohol and other drugs.
We also know the pathology of cocaine use. When a person uses cocaine, the drug blocks the parts of the brain which releases dopamine. This causes a build-up of the neurotransmitter, which results in a shift in the environment where the brain now makes less and less dopamine as a response. This is the pathology of [cocaine] addiction: At first, the drug user experiences euphoria and then requires more of the drug in order to achieve the same experience.
It is important to also note that only about 21 percent cocaine users become more inclined for repeated abuse of the drug. This, researchers say, suggest that it is not just environmental factors but also genetic factors that increase risk (because if it were only environmental, for example, the repeated abuse inclination would be significantly higher).