Single Questionnaire Can Measure Methamphetamine, Cocaine Cravings

For doctors treating people with methamphetamine addiction or cocaine addiction, one screening tool produces consistent results on the craving levels of both drugs, a new study finds.

People addicted to the stimulant drugs methamphetamine and cocaine can develop prominent cravings while taking part in substance treatment. In turn, the presence of such cravings can significantly increase the odds that a person in recovery will relapse back into stimulant use. In a study published in November 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two branches of the University of Texas assessed the effectiveness of a single screening tool, called the Stimulant Craving Questionnaire, in identifying the severity of the drug cravings in individuals recovering from methamphetamine or cocaine addiction.

Methamphetamine and Cocaine Addiction

Methamphetamine addiction and cocaine addiction are two of several conditions that form a larger category of substance abuse/addiction called stimulant use disorder. A person affected by this disorder can have separate or overlapping symptoms of addiction or non-addicted abuse related to the consumption of any drug or medication classified as a stimulant. Broadly speaking, stimulants get their name because they stimulate or increase activity inside the brain and spinal cord (i.e. the central nervous system). In addition to speeding up the central nervous system, they typically change the chemical balance inside the brain’s pleasure center and produce varying degrees of an intense sensation called euphoria. As a rule, methamphetamine has a higher capacity to produce this sensation than cocaine.

The euphoria production associated with meth and cocaine intake makes these substances ripe sources of physical dependence and addiction. This is true because the human brain gradually changes its response to euphoria-triggering drugs and medications over time and can come to rely on the continued consumption of any given drug or medication in order to function “normally.” Since methamphetamine produces more drastic changes inside the pleasure center, habitual consumers of this drug can develop dependence/addiction more rapidly than habitual consumers of cocaine.

The Stimulant Craving Questionnaire

The Stimulant Craving Questionnaire (STCQ) was originally derived from another screening tool called the Cocaine Craving Questionnaire, which intended to detect the level of drug cravings in cocaine consumers. (Craving is important because its presence helps indicate the onset of substance dependence and substance addiction; in a person recovering from substance dependence/addiction, its presence can also supply critical underlying motivation for a relapse and an active return to alcohol, drug or medication intake.) The STCQ uses 10 questions to gauge how much craving a person has for any form of stimulant drug or medication, including amphetamine, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Is It Accurate for Meth and Cocaine?

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center used information gathered from 301 people recovering from stimulant problems to gauge the effectiveness of the Stimulant Craving Questionnaire as a tool for assessing craving levels in cocaine and methamphetamine users. One hundred seventy-seven of the study participants had problems related to cocaine consumption, while the remaining 124 participants had problems related to methamphetamine consumption. The researchers administered the STCQ to the members of both of these groups and compared the results.

After analyzing the data from the Stimulant Craving Questionnaire, the researchers concluded that the screening tool produces consistent results on the craving levels of both methamphetamine users and cocaine users. This means that the questionnaire appears to have equal, predictable value for doctors treating people with methamphetamine addiction or cocaine addiction, as well as equal, predictable value for researchers conducting projects involving these two forms of stimulant addiction.

The study’s authors note that the methamphetamine users enrolled in the project displayed clearly higher levels of stimulant craving than the cocaine users (perhaps not surprisingly, since methamphetamine triggers more drastic changes inside the brain’s pleasure center than cocaine). They believe that the differing STCQ outcomes for the consumers of these two drugs may indicate that craving has a stronger impact on relapse risks among meth users; in turn, this may mean that programs treating individuals affected by methamphetamine addiction require different approaches than programs treating individuals affected by cocaine addiction.

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