Scripps Research Institute On Addiction
Addiction is a disease of the brain, largely controlled by its memory components, the hippocampus and the amygdala. When a person uses an addictive substance, the hippocampus creates a memory of the sensation. And the amygdala creates a conditioned response, otherwise known as a craving.
Addiction and the brain’s memory center
Memories are incredibly strong features of our brains; they are how we learn things. But with addiction, memories – in their scientific sense – are often the key contributors to relapse. When an addict encounters an environmental cue, like a hypodermic needle or a bottle of alcohol. The conditioned response (a.k.a. craving) becomes intense, and can lead to relapse, regardless of how long the addict may have been sober.
A new study looks to “forget” addiction
As the Washington Post reports, The Scripps Research Institute is conducting research to see if there is a way to combat these kinds of memories. Courtney Miller, Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, is part of a team who studies memories in relation to drug addiction. In 2013, she and her team found that memories created as a result of drug abuse are physically different than other memories.
“When the [meth] memory is sort of sitting there in the brain, it’s behaving differently than other memories,” she explained to the Washington Post.
After learning about these differences (and some very technical properties that come along with them), Miller and her research team discovered they could interfere with the drug-associated memories. To explain in it short and simple terms: They found a way to inhibit a particular molecule, known as myosin. This inhibition effectively disables the drug-associated memory.
The Scripps Research Institute scientists
Discovered that when they gave meth-addicted mice a myosin-inhibiting compound, it resulted in “meth-specific” memory loss. More importantly, it didn’t affect other memories. And so far, as Miller explained, the treatment is long-lasting.
“What is particularly exciting is that myosin only has to be inhibited once,” Miller said. “The effect lasted as long as we tested the animals. I hesitate to use the word ‘erased,’ but the memory seems to be gone.”
Ms. Miller was careful to point out that if this ever did become a viable treatment option. This would not serve to replace abstinence therapies and rehab. But rather may have the potential to be part of an integrated treatment approach.
“The idea is that someone would go into a rehab program with the typical abstinence therapies and while they are in the treatment program they would receive this medication one time and it should remove all of the [neurological] associations with the drug,” she explained.
Whether or not the research makes it that far remains to be seen. The medication has not yet been tested on people. A milestone the scientists hope to hurdle in the next five years.
In conclusion, understanding the neurological components of addiction doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. If you’re struggling with your addiction or need help for a loved one who is, contact The Watershed today: 1-800-861-1768.Tags: addiction research, scripps