Previous studies have shown that individuals with heroin and cocaine addiction prefer to use these drugs in distinct settings: mostly at home in the case of heroin and mostly outside the home in the case of cocaine. Here we investigated whether the context would modulate the affective and neural responses to these drugs in a similar way. First, we used a novel emotional task to assess the affective state produced by heroin or cocaine in different settings, based on the recollections of male and female drug users. Then we used fMRI to monitor neural activity during drug imagery (re-creating the setting of drug use) in male drug users. Consistent with our working hypothesis, the majority of participants reported a shift in the affective valence of heroin from mostly pleasant at home to mostly unpleasant outside the home (p < 0.0001). The opposite shift was observed for cocaine; that is, most participants who found cocaine pleasant outside the home found it unpleasant when taken at home (p < 0.0014). Furthermore, we found a double dissociation, as a function of drug and setting imagery, in BOLD signal changes in the left PFC and caudate, and bilaterally in the cerebellum (all p values <0.01), suggesting that the fronto-striatal-cerebellar network is implicated in the contextualization of drug-induced affect. In summary, we report that the same setting can influence in opposite directions the affective and neural response to psychostimulants versus opiates in humans, adding to growing evidence of distinct substrates for the rewarding effects of these two drug classes.
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