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The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction

5: Cocaine dependence and activation of the reward pathway

Cocaine dependence and activation of the reward pathway

Review where cocaine binds within the reward pathway (the VTA and the nucleus accumbens). As a result of cocaine's actions in the nucleus accumbens (point to the dots of cocaine in the VTA and nucleus accumbens), there are increased impulses leaving the nucleus accumbens to activate the reward system. This pathway can be activated even in the absence of cocaine (i.e., during craving). Indicate that with repeated use of cocaine, the body relies on this drug to maintain rewarding feelings. The person is no longer able to feel the positive reinforcement or pleasurable feelings of natural rewards (i.e. food, water, sex)--the person is only able to feel pleasure from the cocaine. Thus the user becomes dependent and when the cocaine is no longer present, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and depression emerge as part of a withdrawal syndrome. To avoid this, the user goes back to the cocaine. Unlike the example for morphine, cocaine addiction (i.e., craving) and dependence (i.e., anhedonia) both involve structures in the reward pathway.

This page was last updated January 2007