Treating substance abuse disorders can be a complex proposition. Some treatments and medications work for certain drugs but not others, and some substances don’t respond to medications at all. Researchers are constantly searching for new compounds to treat everything from overdose to withdrawal to cravings. Recently, scientists discovered that a compound that was first developed to combat methamphetamine relapse might have farther reaching effects than they originally believed, remaining effective even when multiple substances are involved.
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute (the largest private, non-profit biomedical research organization in the United States) previously found that targeting nonmuscle myosin II, or NMII, could disrupt drug-seeking behavior in people using meth. Because memories that are associated with drug use can make people more vulnerable to relapse, they theorized that disrupting these memories could make people less likely to use the drug again.
Consider this: you’ve stopped smoking after weeks of cravings and making do with nicotine replacement therapy. You think you’re finally in a place where you won’t be tempted to use again. Then you open up a drawer in the kitchen, and there’s a cigarette lighter and your favorite ashtray. Just looking at these items can be enough to remind you of the positive feelings you used to get from smoking and make you want to use again. It’s the same with any other addictive substance. But what if you look at that lighter and felt no urges whatsoever, and were able to just shrug and close the drawer?
The new drug is a modified form of a compound called blebbistatin, which inhibits certain proteins that play a role in muscle contraction. It is a molecular motor, or part of a class of proteins that convert chemical energy to mechanical work. Molecular motors can power cell movement and division, transport “cargo” like organelles and RNA, and allow organisms to move. Memories associated with meth are stored in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional memory center, and appear to be governed by continuously moving proteins called actin, and the compound is able to disrupt that movement and reorganize the actin.
Now, researchers believe that targeting NMII could be effective even if other drugs like opioids or nicotine are being used at the same time as meth. Many people who are addicted to meth smoke, and many also use opioids in order to somewhat dampen the high. Unfortunately, using meth and opioids together is extremely dangerous. People who abuse both methamphetamine and heroin are almost three times more likely to overdose.
Targeting these memories is an especially promising treatment because many people don’t even know what their triggers are. There are behavioral therapies that can help people learn to cope with them, but in many cases that can only happen after someone becomes aware of a trigger by having it set off a craving or relapse.
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.