After someone first seeks treatment for alcoholism, the next and much more difficult step is maintaining sobriety. Recovering addicts often struggle with recurring thoughts that remind them of the enjoyable experiences they had while abusing drugs or alcohol, and blocking those flashbacks is a key to recovery according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have been able to identify and deactivate a brain pathway linked to memories that cause alcohol cravings in rats, which may one day lead to a treatment option for people who suffer from addiction. Their findings were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
"One of the main causes of relapse is craving, triggered by the memory by certain cues – like going into a bar, or the smell or taste of alcohol," said lead author Dr. Segev Barak in a press release. "We learned that when rats were exposed to the smell or taste of alcohol, there was a small window of opportunity to target the area of the brain that reconsolidates the memory of the craving for alcohol and to weaken or even erase the memory, and thus the craving."
During the study, rats who had been given alcohol on a regular basis were abruptly cut off from the substance. After a 10-day period of abstinence, half of the rats were given rapamycin, an FDA-approved drug used to prevent transplant organ rejection after, while the other rats served as the control group. The animals were exposed for five minutes to the smell and taste of alcohol. The researchers then scanned the animals' brains, and identified the neural mechanism responsible for the reactivation of the memory of the alcohol. Rats who had not been given rapamycin frequently went back to the areas of their cages where the alcohol had been. Treated mice did not.
The researchers or hopeful that they can conduct this experiment with human participants soon.
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