In what seems at first an obvious conclusion, researchers at Johns Hopkins and The National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that people who "do" both cocaine and alcohol risk a worse loss of brain function than those who frequently use either drug alone.
"You could say this is a 'no brainer' sort of study," says Hopkins neuropsychologist Karen Bolla, Ph.D., who led the research team. "That two drugs are worse than one is something you'd expect. But very little science exists on how using both drugs affects the brain. Since cocaine and alcohol use often go hand-in-hand in the real world," Bolla says, "these studies were acutely needed." One result of the study, for example, suggests that cocaine use may somehow make the brain more sensitive, lowering the amount of alcohol it takes to hobble brain abilities, she adds.
In a report this week in the journal Neurology, the researchers gave 56 chronic cocaine abusers a battery of neuropsychological tests, each geared to measure a specific brain ability. All the participants also drank liquor, but half of them drank more than10 times a week.
The coke/alcohol users had been "dry" for at least a day at the time they were first tested. They were tested again after four weeks of abstinence.
Results showed that each drug takes a unique toll. "We found that people with a heavy use of alcohol don't do as well at executive abilities like planning ahead and organizing," says Bolla. "Those with a heavy cocaine habit have less ability to concentrate and score higher in impulsive activity. The take-home message is that taking both drugs is additive users experience the whole range of losses. "
One of the study's strengths, says Bolla, was that researchers questioned people on their lifetime drug use and translated that into specific numerical results. For the first time, she said, scientists could show how the degree of a person's drug habit relates to brain performance. For both cocaine and a
Contact: Marjorie Centofanti
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions