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NIDA

Cocaine

Letter from the Director

Image of Cocaine?What Is Cocaine? Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that directly affects the brain.

Cocaine abuse and addiction continue to plague our Nation. In 2008, almost 15 percent of Americans had tried cocaine, with 6 percent having tried it by their senior year of high school. Recent discoveries about the inner workings of the brain and the harmful effects of cocaine offer us unprecedented opportunities for addressing this persistent public health problem.

Genetic studies continue to provide critical information about hereditary influences on the risk of addiction to psychoactive substances, including cocaine. But genetic risk is far less rigid than previously thought. More recent epigenetic research has begun to shed light on the power of environmental factors (e.g., nutrition, chronic stress, parenting style) to influence gene expression and thus, genetic risk. Furthermore, sophisticated imaging technologies have allowed scientists to visualize the brain changes that result from chronic drug exposure or that occur when an addicted person is exposed to drug-associated “cues” that can trigger craving and lead to relapse. By mapping genetic factors, epigenetic mechanisms, and brain regions responsible for the multiple effects of cocaine, we are gaining fundamental insights that can help us identify new targets for treating cocaine addiction.

NIDA remains vigilant in its quest for more effective strategies to address the serious public health issues linked to cocaine abuse. We not only support a wide range of basic and clinical research, but also facilitate the translation of these research findings into real-world settings. To this end, we strive to keep the public informed of the latest scientific advances in the field of addiction. We hope that this compilation of scientific information on cocaine abuse will inform readers and bolster our efforts to tackle the personal and social devastation caused by drug abuse and addiction.

Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director
National Institute on Drug Abuse

This page was last updated September 2010

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