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Research Offers Hope for Treatment of Cocaine Addiction

Recent research may potentially lead to the development of the first pharmacological treatment for cocaine addiction.

The study was performed by investigators at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM); the report was coauthored by Devin Mueller, UWM assistant professor of psychology, and James Otis.

The researchers studied animals that were addicted to cocaine and discovered that propranolol, a beta blocker commonly used as a treatment for individuals suffering from hypertension and anxiety, also efficiently inhibits the brain from recovering memories connected to cocaine use.

Cocaine is known to be one of them most difficult drugs to cease taking. Roughly 80% of cocaine addicts who attempt to quit suffer from a relapse within six months.

According to Mueller, this research is the first occurrence of a therapeutic treatment being utilized in order to hinder the retrieval of memories associated with drug addiction, which is known to be connected to why numerous ex-addicts relapse.

"Right now, there are no FDA-approved medications that are known to successfully treat cocaine abuse, only those that are used to treat the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, which are largely ineffective at preventing relapse,” stated Mueller.

Mueller went on to say that that the effects of propranolol on stimuli known to induce relapse were long-lasting in the animal models, and could possibly even be permanent. This held true even without subsequent doses.

In previous studies, propranolol has been found to relieve some of the brutal withdrawal symptoms recovering cocaine addicts suffer from.

A current treatment that is being used for recovering addicts is "exposure therapy" which aids them to restrain their drug-seeking behavior. Exposure therapy forces the patient to be frequently exposed to stimuli that provokes cravings but do not satisfy them.

Performed repeatedly over a period of time, exposure therapy results in the recovering addict experiencing a decrease in cravings for his or her drug of choice when confronted with the stimuli.

Exposure therapy has limited success, however.

Mueller believes that combing this therapy with the use of propranolol could most definitely increase its effectiveness, as previous studies have shown that recovering addicts who use propranolol to help ease withdrawal symptoms have also persisted with exposure therapy longer than patients without the drug.

But, Mueller cautions, propranolol was not tested for use with memory extinction.

Mueller added that the next step to developing a drug treatment for overcoming drug relapse is to figure out where in the brain propranolol works to mediate the retrieval of cocaine-associated memories.

The research, compiled into an article titled "Inhibition of β-Adrenergic Receptors Induces a Persistent Deficit in Retrieval of a Cocaine-Associated Memory Providing Protection against Reinstatement,” is published in the August issue of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
 
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