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Synapse. 1996 Jan;22(1):28-34.

Chronic cocaine use as a neuropsychiatric syndrome: a model for debate.

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Molecular Neuropsychiatry Section, Intramural Research Program, NIH/NIDA, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


In humans, chronic cocaine abuse is associated with changes in the central nervous system (CNS). Neuropathological changes include cerebrovascular events, EEG abnormalities, vasculitis, seizures, and decrements in neurobehavioral performance. The acute administration of cocaine is associated with acute psychotic episodes and paranoid states while withdrawal from the drug is often associated with depressed mood. The mechanistic basis of these behavioral states is not known. Given the structural and functional changes associated with cocaine use, we propose that the chronic heavy use of cocaine may result in a neuropsychiatric syndrome which might be associated with neuropsychological changes that are not obvious during routine clinical evaluation of drug-using individuals. This disconnection syndrome, because of its sublety, might have deleterious effects on both acute and long-term therapeutic interventions with these subjects. An approach which deals with cocaine abuse as a neuropsychiatric disorder might be more beneficial to the long-term goal of treating these patients. This approach entails a neurobehavioral evaluation which will be comprised of a thorough neurological and psychiatric examination, neuropsychological testing, and imaging studies. The results of this evaluation would provide a more rational basis for cognitive and/or pharmacological therapies.

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