Social anxiety and drugs: A lesson about addiction from monkeys

Monkeys can use cocaine to feel better about themselves too

Posted Mar 05, 2010

If you ever doubted the idea that monkeys are über similar to humans, read this:

A number of researchers at Wake Forest University school of Medicine looked at the social organization in 4 groups of monkeys. They then took either a dominant or subordinate monkey and put it in a cage next to a group of unfamiliar monkeys. The monkeys couldn't hurt each other, but they could yell and scream, which they did, creating an emotionally stressful situation for the lone monkey.

After this stressful event, the researchers gave the monkey a chance to relax, human style: They were brought back to their normal housing and allowed to pull either on a lever that gave them food, or a lever that gave them a dose of cocaine.

Want to guess what happened? The subordinate monkeys were giving themselves a lot more cocaine than they had been before the stressful event, while the dominant monkeys were giving themselves less. Brain scans during the event itself showed that the dominant monkeys showed increased activation in the brain's pleasure regions but the subordinate monkeys showed less activation in stress and anxiety management areas. Sounds like a typical high-school bullying scene, the dominant monkeys were actually enjoying the fight! It was the socially inferior monkeys that were becoming stressed out.

What this teaches about addiction

The study supports the idea that stress can increase the tendency to do drugs, especially in those that are less able to protect against it. The researchers caution that in humans, there are many more stressors than social rank. That's definitely true, but try telling that to a high-school student...

 

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