What triggers the need to use, or a relapse for that matter? Could it be the sight of a certain substance? Or perhaps the sensation you recall about the particular high it omits? Well, scientists in South Carolina are working to explore that concept and perhaps combat it via memory altering pharmaceuticals. Now this is all certainly controversial and far from the final testing stages, but it is an interesting theory and one that received some nice coverage in The Daily Beast.
The treatment in question involves the drug propranolol, which literally interferes with the brain’s ability to form memories. Rodent subjects who had shown addictions to drugs like cocaine were given it and then closely monitored for several weeks. The goal was to re-shape their memories, weakening the urges they associate with these substances.
It is certainly an interesting approach and one that lead researcher Mike Saladin believes goes back to certain cues people have when it comes to using. Saladin claims that most of them are subconscious and can occur with something as simple as a sound.
“When you learn that the pop of a wine cork predicts you will soon be enjoying a drink, you’ve created a memory,” he told The Beast. “The more meaningful the experience and the more often you’ve paired those two events, the stronger the memory, even though it may be unconscious. People who have long substance use histories are responding to a myriad of cues, some of which they are not really aware of.”
The article then delves into some classic experiments, such as the work Ivan Pavlov did when testing certain behavioral patterns on dogs. What he discovered was that longstanding memories are far from permanent and can actually be reversed. “Re-training” people per se, could be as simple as eliminating that underlying urge when the wine cork pops.
Saladin’s tests have been going on for five years now, with continued improvements over the recent months. Propranolol did show success in reducing short term cravings, but he admitted more work needs to be done to understand the long term effects.
And, as the article properly points out, this approach strictly focuses on relapses and people who are already immersed in addiction. The true hope would be that this type of science could help with preventative measures, silencing a craving before it ever begins.