A new study suggests that chronic cocaine use may speed up brain aging. According to US News and World Report, British researchers scanned the brains of 60 people with cocaine dependence and 60 people with no history of substance abuse. They found that those with cocaine dependence had greater levels of age-related loss of brain gray matter.
Cocaine users lost brain volume at nearly twice the rate of healthy people. The decline in gray matter was most noticeable in regions associated with attention, decision-making, self-regulation, and memory. One researcher said, "As we age, we all lose gray matter. However, what we have seen is that chronic cocaine users lose gray matter at a significantly faster rate, which could be a sign of premature aging. Our findings therefore provide insight into why the mental deficits typically seen in old age have frequently been observed in middle-aged chronic users of cocaine." The study was published in the April 25 issue of the journal "Molecular Psychiatry."
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, cocaine is used by 21 million people worldwide, and 1% of those people become dependent on the drug. Researchers said, "Our findings clearly highlight the need for preventative strategies to address the risk of premature aging associated with cocaine abuse. Young people taking cocaine need to be educated about the long-term risk of aging prematurely."
Accelerated aging affects older adults who have abused cocaine and other drugs since early adulthood. Researchers also emphasized, "Our findings shed light on the largely neglected problem of the growing number of older drug users, whose needs are not so well catered for in drug treatment services. It is timely for health care providers to understand and recognize the needs of older drug users in order to design and administer age-appropriate treatments."