Cocaine abuse and addiction continue to plague our Nation. In 2008, almost 15 percent of Americans had tried cocaine, with 6 percent having tried it by their senior year of high school. Recent discoveries about the inner workings of the brain and the harmful effects of cocaine offer us unprecedented opportunities for addressing this persistent public health problem.

Genetic studies continue to provide critical information about the hereditary influences on the risk of addiction to psychoactive substances, including cocaine. But genetic risk is far less rigid than previously thought. More recent epigenetic research has begun to shed light on the power of environmental factors (e.g., nutrition, chronic stress, parenting style) to influence gene expression and thus, genetic risk. Furthermore, sophisticated imaging technologies have allowed scientists to visualize the brain changes that result from chronic drug exposure or that occur when an addicted person is exposed to drug-associated "cues" that can trigger craving and lead to relapse. By mapping the genetic factors, epigenetic mechanisms, and brain regions responsible for the multiple effects of cocaine, we are gaining fundamental insights that can help us identify new targets for treating cocaine addiction.