There are many obstacles to remaining in recovery after substance abuse treatment, and 40 to 60 percent of addicts will relapse. Not only are the cravings always in the back of your mind, but if you’re still dealing with any mental or emotional issues that led to your substance use, those can be a precursor to relapse. One of the most important things to learn is how to deal with triggers, or cues that remind you of your substance use and set off a craving. These can be people you used to buy from or use with, places you used to use, pictures or video of people using drugs or drinking, objects like drug paraphernalia that might be laying around your house, and more. Luckily, scientists are working on ways to interfere with these triggers and the resultant cravings.

According to a study published in 2016 in Nature Neuroscience, a team led by neuroscientists from the University of Oxford found a way to use light to alter mice’s memories so that they no longer associated certain locations with cocaine use. The scientists first trained the mice to associate a space with cocaine, and eventually the mice would gravitate to that space over areas that merely contained a saline solution. They believe that a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved with long-term memory and spatial navigation, was responsible for this association.

The researchers injected the mice with a certain chemical that caused the neurons in the hippocampus to produce a light-sensitive protein when a mouse was in the cocaine-associated area. They found 133 neurons that lit up, and they then implanted light-transmitting fibers near these neurons. When the scientists used light to turn off those spatial mapping neurons, the mice no longer preferred the cocaine-associated area over others. They took this to meant that the chemical had altered the mice’s memories in such a way that they forgot the association between the particular space and cocaine.

Obviously, it’s not feasible for humans to walk around with optical cables in their brains, but this study suggests that it is possible to reduce addiction by limiting neuron function and altering memories. Another study from 2015 used a drug called isradipine, which is typically prescribed to lower blood pressure, to alter associations with drug use. Rats who had learned to associate a certain colored room with either alcohol or cocaine were given the isradipine, and although their choices didn’t change immediately upon taking it, a few days later they didn’t show any preference for one room over another. One good thing about isradipine is that it’s already FDA approved and on the market, so it could be fast-tracked for approval to treat addiction if researchers prove it effective in humans.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.


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