Are Addicts Chasing a High or Running From Emotional Lows?


Most people assume that those who “chase a high” on cocaine, heroin and other euphoria-inducing, addictive substances are seeking to trigger the “pleasure chemicals” in their brains when they take more and more of their drug of choice. However, a study recently published in the journal Psychopharmacology found that it might be that these addicts – specifically those addicted to cocaine – are actually seeking to avoid the crash that comes after a high rather than seeking the high itself, according to

The Study

Animals were the subjects of the study that led researchers to the conclusion that the lows that come after a drug binge and the negative emotions that occurred while under the influence were more of a concern to addicts than the highs. They found that the animals were likely to work hard to relieve the negative emotions around getting high – even the negative emotions that occurred during the high itself.

Professor Mark West of Rutgers University Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience and David Barker, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences were the primary researchers in the study.

Said West: “Our results suggest that once the animals started a binge, they may have felt trapped and didn’t like it. This showed us that negative emotions play an equal, if not more important role in regulating cocaine abuse.”

Are animals valid subjects when the hope is to help humans? The researchers believe so. Human responses to surveys and definitions of emotions are subjective and may not be reliable.

Says West: “It’s not that human studies aren’t important, they certainly are. But with these animal studies it is clear that we should be placing just as much importance on the negative as being a trigger for drug abuse and deal with that as well.”

Finding Balance

Whether the goal of continued drug use is to avoid withdrawal symptoms, stop an emotional crash or achieve a high, continued drug use means a constant rollercoaster where contentment is illusory. Drug addiction treatment that helps the addicted person to stop using all drugs and alcohol immediately and then gives them the tools to remain drug-free for the long-term is the only way to find balance after addiction. Learn more about the treatment options that can help your family member to begin the healing process. Call now.