Social Interactions Enjoyed Less By Cocaine Users

social interactionsSocial interactions are enjoyed less by cocaine users, as they have difficulties feeling empathy for others.[1] A study at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Zurich suggests that cocaine users have social deficits because social contacts are less rewarding for them; therefore, increasing social skills should become a standard in their addiction treatment.1

In Europe, and worldwide, cocaine is the second most frequently used drug after marijuana.1 Chronic cocaine users have worse memory performance, concentration difficulties, and attentional deficits, as well as poor social skills.1

The researchers also state that cocaine users have a difficult time taking in the mental perspective of others, showing less emotional empathy.1 They find it hard to recognize emotions in voices and behave in less pro-social manners in social situations.1 As they often have fewer social contact, their emotional empathy is even more correlated with a smaller social network.1

Researchers believe that social cognitive deficits contribute to the development and perpetuation of cocaine addiction, as social skills are a product of a blunted response to social reward.1 Cocaine users perceived joined attention, or the shared attentional focus of two persons on an object, as less rewarding compared to healthy controls.1 In fMRIs, cocaine users showed a blunted activation of a key part of the reward system in the brain—the medial orbitofrontal cortex.1

Psychologist Boris Quednow said, “Cocaine users perceive social exchange as less positive and rewarding compared to people who do not use this stimulant.”1

Quednow and fellow psychologist Katrin Preller propose that the changes in the brain function may help to explain why dependent cocaine users often fail to stop using drugs despite the social consequences, such as family and friend problems.1

As social reward is important for successful psychotherapy, Preller and Quednow suggest, “Social skills, such as empathy, mental perspective taking, and pro-social behavior, should be trained during the treatment of cocaine dependence to enhance the efficacy and sustainability of the treatment.”1

[1] University of Zurich. (2014, January 20). Cocaine users enjoy social interactions less. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140120173338.htm

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