It is well-known that cocaine addicts tend to exhibit difficulties in empathizing with others. They also tend to engage in less prosocial behavior. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of the Zurich suggests that one of the reasons for this may be that cocaine addicts find interpersonal interaction less rewarding than other people do, suggesting that training in interpersonal interaction may benefit recovering cocaine addicts as a potentially helpful clinical intervention.
While certain cognitive effects of cocaine are well-known, such as difficulties paying attention and concentrating, as well as impaired memory, it was only recently determined that cocaine addicts exhibit social and interpersonal deficits. This does not so much mean that cocaine addicts are simply nasty people, but rather, on a purely cognitive level, they have a greater deal of difficulty inferring what emotion a specific tone of voice is expressing, as well as inferior empathy both in the cognitive and affective domains. In other words, they have a hard time imagining what others are thinking and feeling. Most notable in this study, they show a notably smaller social network and report having fewer friends.
Rather than seeing this blunted interpersonal interaction solely in terms of the direct or immediate neuropharmacological effects of cocaine, however, the scientists suggest that those who will become cocaine addicts tend to see social interaction as relatively unrewarding, and therefore tend to seek out more intense experiences.
The researchers used functional imaging to examine the brains of cocaine addicts, as well as a group of healthy controls who did not use drugs during activities typically involving the use of empathy. “The research team demonstrated that cocaine users perceived joined attention — the shared attentional focucs of two persons on an obejct after gaze contact — as less rewarding compared to drug-naive healthy controls”(University of Zurich, 2014). They also noted that the medial orbitofrontal cortex in cocaine addicts exhibited weaker activation during social gaze contact, and that this was correlated with having fewer friends.
The researchers suggest that this study may shed some light on the tendency of cocaine addicts to remain addicted even in spite of serious consequences with respect to family and friends: they simply do not find some contact rewarding and prefer doing cocaine.
University of Zurich. (2014, January 20). Cocaine users enjoy social interactions less. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 8, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140120173338.htm