The presence of social stimulus reduces interest in cocaine, according to a study in mice which may lead to better intervention strategies against drug addiction. The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, said providing animals with a positive and relevant stimulus — such as social interaction with another animal — may reduce their preference for cocaine.
The researchers, including Patricia Sampedro from the University of Malaga in Spain, studied the preference exhibited by 57 mice towards two different compartments towards which they were conditioned — one where they were administered cocaine, and the other where the animals received saline.
“After four days of observation, we detected that the animals preferred spending more time in the drug-paired compartment,” Samperdo said.
Next, the researchers introduced a juvenile mouse — a highly positive stimulus for mice — into the compartment where the animals had received saline, and analysed whether they preferred spending more time in this place, or in the one where they received the drug.
“We realised that most of the animals preferred spending more time in this social stimulus to exploring the context where they had received cocaine”, said Sampedro.
She emphasised that social interaction played a key role in reducing cocaine-seeking, and the salience of the drug. The results were similar in both animal models that lived independently, and in those that lived in groups.
“We carried out the same experiment but using an inanimate object as stimulus — a Rubik’s cube — and, this time, we observed that the animals preferred the drug-paired compartment, which means that the social stimulus is in itself a highly relevant component to catch their attention,” Samperdo said.
The researchers suggest that social support is a key tool in the treatment of drug addiction. “Social interaction could constitute a valuable component in the treatment of substance use disorders by reducing the salience of the drug,” the researchers wrote in the study.