The Biology Behind Triggers for Cocaine Use

When treating drug addiction, relapse is at the heart of the issue. Initially, detox is challenging but the threat of relapse lasts long after detox and withdrawal symptoms subside. No medical treatments exist for cocaine addiction that support psychological so it is more challenging and leads to higher incidences of relapse. Learn more about the biology of triggers for people with cocaine addiction.


Medical treatments are invaluable in recovery. Buprenorphine and naloxone make withdrawal more tolerable but no such treatment exists for psychological symptoms in cocaine addiction. Those who struggle will have to let physiological effects play out while going through challenging, difficult psychological treatment.

Mouse Model

Researchers used a mouse ‘model’ for human cocaine addiction in research. Studies on mice are believed to be good predictors of effects on humans. Mice were genetically modified to investigate impact of two opioid receptors and peptide chains on relapse to cocaine. Scientists deleted the components and after getting mice addicted to cocaine and then forcing detox, the effects of deletions were investigated. What the researchers found was that peptides which work on the opioid receptors in question do have an important role in relapse. Potentially a treatment may be found which helps prevent relapse in humans since opioid peptides derived from the protein prodynorphin seem to play a key role in relapse.

Opioid System

The brain is so integral to the process of relapse to cocaine. The link is found in shared impact on the reward centers of the brain which are important parts of addiction. The opioid system helps control the circuits but continued use of the drug impacts the way components of it are expressed. While details of this are complex, the core point is there is a link between the opioid system and cocaine addiction.

New Treatments

No matter how predictive models are, there is no guarantee results can be replicated in humans. The study is preliminary but future studies are needed to get a bigger picture. Future positive results and modeling it to human behavior is going to be challenging when it comes to relapse. Every individual is different and struggles with varying degrees of psychological and physical issues as a result of drug use. Relapse is one part of the recovery journey that people would avoid if possible but the fact is it happens and it is not a bad thing. It just means the individual needs some time to reassess recovery principles and get focused on the goals again. Addressing core issues will be important. The individual will always be able to find better coping mechanisms and how to deal with them if provided proper support and guidance.


The Villa provides support and information to individuals seeking help with cocaine addiction. If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, call us. Let us help guide you to the right path for your individual situation.