Study Finds Link Between Opiate Addiction Withdrawal Syndrome and Serotonin

Posted on February 1st, 2011

Remaining abstinent from opiate abuse is a significant challenge for those addicted to drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine. People who are recovering from opiate addiction often report severe withdrawal symptoms and feeling “off” for several weeks or even months after withdrawing from the drugs. This can make it very hard for recovering addicts to complete drug rehab, as the symptoms can lead to relapse.

These lingering feelings are symptoms of “protracted abstinence syndrome,” a cluster of depressive-like symptoms that can include low energy, poor sleep quality, reduced concentration, and anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasurable emotions from activities that usually bring pleasure).

A new research study has found that the serotonin system plays a major role in this syndrome. French researchers found that mice that were chronically exposed to morphine showed decreasing physical dependence during a period of abstinence, with no physical withdrawal symptoms after four weeks. After four weeks, symptoms of depression and low sociability began to develop.

When treated with the antidepressant fluoxetine during the abstinence period, the development of both depression and low sociability were prevented. This discovery is important because fluoxetine acts on the serotonin system, which influences mood.

Senior author Dr. Brigitte Kieffer said that the study establishes a direct link between abstinence from morphine and symptoms of depression, and strongly suggests that serotonin dysfunction and morphine abstinence.

These findings could lead to further research on the effects of drug abuse on serotonin. Hopefully these findings can lead to clinical treatments, as medication that acts on the serotonin system (such as antidepressants) are easily available.

Source: Science Daily, Opiate Abuse: Protracted Abstinence Revisited, February 1, 2011

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