Researchers have found a unique way that may curb drug seeking behaviors and drug addiction. Scientists, in studying rat behavior, have found that blocking a chemical receptor in the brain eradicates drug-associated memories, thus reducing drug cravings. The process is called reconsolidation. The research is published in the August 13 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
The research team used rats, providing them with cocaine and using light to bring about an association with the drug. When the scientists turned on the light, but provided no cocaine, the rats performed the tasks themselves to activate the light. When a chemical was given that blocked the action of the brain receptor, the rats stopped trying to obtain cocaine. One treatment lasted up to four weeks. In the lab, success in eliminating the rat’s behavior occurred when the chemical blockade was administered just before the “reactivation phase” – in this case, just before the research team turned on the lights.
The authors concluded, “These results indicate that neither the extent of drug experience nor the time that has elapsed since the onset of self-administration, both of which are characteristically substantial in addicts, are major obstacles to considering the use of reconsolidation blockade as a potential treatment strategy for drug addiction. However, the quantitative and temporal limits of these variables warrant additional detailed study.
The Cost of Drug Addiction and Abuse
Drug addiction is a complex issue that affects the brain. Curbing one’s appetite for drugs is not merely a matter of willpower. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States—including health- and crime-related costs as well as losses in productivity—exceed half a trillion dollars annually. This includes approximately $181 billion for illicit drugs, $168 billion for tobacco, and $185 billion for alcohol. Staggering as these numbers are, however, they do not fully describe the breadth of deleterious public health—and safety—implications, which include family disintegration, loss of employment, failure in school, domestic violence, child abuse, and other crimes.”
Curing drug addiction is a serious challenge, and frequent relapses are common. Over time, the structure of the brain changes – the “reward circuit” in the brain becomes highly stimulated, making drug-seeking behavior almost impossible to control.
New strategies, such as seen in the current research, may provide better outcomes for treating drug addiction.
Cue-Induced Cocaine Seeking and Relapse Are Reduced by Disruption of Drug Memory Reconsolidation
NIDA InfoFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction