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Drugs & Health Blog

How Does Cocaine Work? It's Partly In Your Genes

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

You probably know that your genes help make you who you are. Except for identical twins, everyone has a slightly different set of genes, and when our genes interact with our environment, that’s what makes us unique individuals.

Genes give us different hair, eye, and skin colors, and affect our height and weight. Genes also affect the inside of our bodies, and influence how organs like the heart, lungs, and even the brain work. But did you know that genes also affect how you behave? And the opposite is also true: how you behave can affect your genes!

Your lifestyle and your genes

Scientists have learned that genes are affected by our lifestyles: what we eat and drink, how much we exercise, how much we sleep. These factors influence how genes are expressed—or turned “on” or “off”—in our bodies. That can have pretty major effects on health.

Currently, scientists are studying how taking cocaine affects your genes. Scientists have known for a while that using cocaine over a drawn-out period can lead to permanent changes in the brain. Teen brains may be especially vulnerable, because they'e still developing. But what causes those changes to happen?

In May 2009, a NIDA-funded study found one piece of the puzzle—and it has to do with, yep, genes.

Reducing the cocaine "reward"

For the first time, scientists have discovered that mice given repeated cocaine exposure “turn on” genes in certain regions of the brain. These genes, called sirtuins (pronounced sir-TOO-ins), are activated by long-term exposure to cocaine, and it looks like they contribute to the development of addiction.

When the scientists prevented sirtuin activation in the brains of lab mice, the mice didn’t find cocaine to be as good, or rewarding. To say it another way, without turning these genes “on,” cocaine couldn’t give the mice a “high” anymore, and the mice didn’t want the drug as much.

These results are pretty exciting, because if scientists could develop a treatment based on these genes, it might help people suffering from cocaine addiction. That kind of treatment is a long way off—but at least now the scientists know how cocaine affects genes, and how that affects the brain. And that’s a good start.

Want to learn more? Check out the blog post “Say What? Epigenetics.”

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


it is good but why did you do it

Boby, researchers do animial studies to discover new ways to help people suffering from diseases, including the disease of addiction. This study brings scientists a step closer to understanding how cocaine affects genes and the brain, so that better treatments can be developed to fight addiction. It's a small step, but at least it's in the right direction.

Knowing that, makes it scary to even think bout considering trying cocaine.
JUst thinking about how it things in my genes could affect things like that freaks me out.

thinkin about doin cocain is terafin it would mess up my life nd living wth a person like tht i wount even thnk about it

poor mice.
did they get addicted to the cocaine?

yes drugs are bad

Uneducated much

i know, poor mice

do the mice get addicted to

Interesting question, Richard. Yes, in fact, scientists use certain animal models of addiction in which the mice do get addicted and learn how to self-administer various drugs so that researchers can better understand their effects on brains and behavior. The goal is to learn more about how drugs work in the brain and body so we can better prevent addiction from taking hold and better treat it when it does.

i think that not even hospitals should use certin drugs and yes i think drugs can give you viruses because when poeple get the flu shots they sometimes get sick i think that they should try to find a diffrent flu shot forula

thank you for replying and i think adictoin has a really good point again thanke you for replying

i like mice

poor little bitty baby mice thangs...

You are all nieve ignorant yuppies

drugs are not goood for you.
DONT DO THEM, instead get girfriend/boyfriend.

dont do them

coke is not a good deal. you do it, youll die

i was watching a movie and i saw some one doing cocain so tell me is it good or badies

Drugs are very bad

people are stupid for doing that

Pretty cool research. Hopefully with this technology and knowledge they can also treat other addictions as well.

thanks for the leassons


I don't think it's right to make a treatment like that because then it's going to wind up being 'okay' to use cocaine because anyways "they found a cure" Lots more people would want to use it because there would be no neggative effects to come from it. If someone who is addicted to the drug wants to quit, they have to do it on their own. Hard work is what movivates them to not return to the evils of coaine and other drugs. If someone could take a 'shortcut' what lesson did they learn in the first place?

IM HOOKED ON CRACK.AT LEAST 20yrs NOw.Ive tried everything,but at 48yrs old i feel like life is over for me?HELP [personal email removed, per guidelines]

i hate drugs they r so grooss i wish ppl didnt do it ugh nasty

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, greatly appreciated! [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

coke is a joke

yes drugs r bad

Very cool way to explain coke. I think its just sad how people go on crazy coke binges. yikes!

y would kids under 12 do stuff like that it could kill them

drugs r dumb and stupid

yes drugs are bad...

drugs are reallt bad for you so don't do them

Drugs suck i dont know why anyone does them they hurt really bad.

Just say no

coke is a joke

After i read this blog i have made a conclusion why do people do drugs like cocaine if it has so many side effects. So to me people do drugs like that people seem to have to much time on their hands

Why would people test cocaine on mice? That is so inhuman!