Drug rehabilitation centres offer more than just medical help and counselling. They provide a protective cocoon from an outside world full of cues that the addict has learnt to associate with drug taking. An after work drink, nightclubs, even seeing a friend. All these seemingly harmless events, once associated with drug taking, can trigger the most committed abstainer to lose control and lead to relapse. Female cocaine users appear to be particularly susceptible – getting hooked quicker and then finding it harder to kick the habit. Brain scans show that when exposed to drug-taking cues, areas involved in exerting conscious control over impulses and desires (shown in red and yellow) are significantly less active in women compared to men. More research is needed to understand the cognitive effects of this difference but lower activity may hamper women's ability to master the unconscious pressure that drug-taking cues exert on them.
Written by Jan Piotrowski
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