Empathy, the awareness of another’s feelings and emotions, is a key feature in normal social interactions. But new research from the University of Minnesota suggests that empathy can have detrimental effects on an individual — and can push former drug users to relapse.
A group of researchers, led by Dr. Jonathan Gewirtz, performed a series of experiments to analyze links between empathy, stress, and drug use. First, they used behavioral conditioning to train a group of mice to mimic drug-seeking behavior. The mice were initially placed in a two-sided compartment, where a neutral saline solution was administered on one side and a dose of morphine on the other. When the treatment was repeated over the course of several days, the mice started associating one side with the drug treatment.
Next, the group of mice received only saline injections in either compartment for two weeks to mimic a period of sobriety.