Neuroendocrinology. 2003 Sep;78(3):154-62.
Cocaine causes neuroendocrine aberrations in cocaine abusers with pituitary stress hormone secretion providing a window to the stress system in the brain. Substance abusers and control participants were hormonally profiled for 3 weeks. Abusers showed significant basal elevations in prolactin in week 1 with normalization over the 3 weeks. No differences in prolactin secretion were seen with either thyrotropin-releasing hormone stimulation or L-dopa suppression testing. Basal afternoon cortisol secretion was significantly elevated during weeks 1 and 2 comparing abusers to controls. Elevated afternoon cortisol secretion is a sensitive indicator of central stress activation. These results point to the hypothalamus, not the pituitary gland, as being primarily altered in cocaine withdrawal. The data demonstrate that both the dopamine-prolactin and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axes are affected during cocaine cessation. As medications are developed to modulate activation of a dysfunctional stress system, future therapeutic studies of substance abuse, withdrawal, craving and relapse should employ more sophisticated tests of hypothalamic pituitary function, especially the HPA axis, as this information may be a guide in the diagnosis and predict clinical responses.