Blocking Cocaine-Related Memories Could Help Treat Addiction

Posted on November 30th, 2010
Posted in Cocaine

Exciting new research may help scientists develop a pharmacological treatment for cocaine addiction that, put simply, blocks cocaine-related memories. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California.

In one study, a common beta blocker called propranolol, which is currently used to treat hypertension and anxiety, was shown to be effective in preventing the brain from recalling memories associated with cocaine use in animals. This study was led by Devin Mueller, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and co-author James Otis.

Mueller said that this is the first time a therapeutic treatment has been shown to block memories associated with drug addiction. These memories often trigger relapse in addicts. According to background information in the study, about 80 percent of people trying to quit cocaine relapse within six months.

The researchers also discovered the mechanisms behind “extinction” learning in the brain, or the ability to replace cocaine-associated memories with associations that aren’t related to drug rewards. Mueller said that understanding these mechanisms could also help researchers develop a drug to help with addiction.

Mueller noted that there are currently no FDA-approved medications that successfully treat cocaine addiction. He added that propranolol seems to have long-lasting, possibly permanent effects, even without taking subsequent doses and even when an individual is exposed to stimuli known to trigger relapse (called “exposure therapy”).

Exposure therapy is currently used to help recovering addicts change their drug-seeking behavior, and the individual is repeatedly exposed to stimuli that trigger cravings. Over time, the cravings decrease with more exposure to the stimuli. The success of exposure therapy alone is limited, but combining exposure therapy with propranolol could be very effective, according to Mueller.

Source: Science Daily, Hope for Treatment of Cocaine Addiction: Block Memories, November 18, 2010

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