Possible tool to help cocaine users kick the habit

October 7, 2011
A close up of a young woman snorting cocaine during the 1920s. Image by Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS. Credit: Foxtongue from Flickr

Medicines which increase levels of the brain chemical dopamine may hold the key to helping those addicted to cocaine and amphetamines kick the habit, researchers from the University of Cambridge have found.

Unlike heroin users who may benefit from when attempting to quit, there is currently no medication which has proven to be an effective tool in assisting and amphetamines users when attempting to quit.

“Treatment for stimulant dependence is difficult and often individuals battling addiction relapse several times,” said Dr Karen Ersche, of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI) at the University of Cambridge, who led the research.

“At the moment, the standard treatment for people dependent on cocaine and mainly involves behavioural approaches such as counselling and cognitive-behavioural therapy – which are useful.  However, our research provides important insight into the potential development of medications which could help curb the desire of those plagued with addiction, increasing the likelihood of a successful recovery.”

For the research, Dr. Ersche and her Cambridge colleagues asked stimulant-dependent individuals and volunteers who do not use drugs to perform a learning task while their brains were scanned.  They found that stimulant-dependent people had problems with adjusting their behavior when one of the rules was changed – they persistently responded to the previously correct stimulus despite being repeatedly told that the rule had changed and their responses were wrong.

Dr. Ersche added: “Their inflexible performance on the task resembles their drug-taking habits in as much as stimulant-dependent people do almost everything to take drugs even when there are negative consequences such as job loss, debts, or relationship breakups.”

The brain scans which were conducted while the patients performed the learning task showed that this persistent behavior was directly linked with reduced activation in the system.  However, when the drug users were given a medication that increased the in the brain reward centre, their performance improved and their brain activation normalised.

Dr. Ersche concluded: “However, before this medication can be used for the treatment of stimulant-dependent individuals in clinical practice, more research would be needed using multiple doses over longer period of time.”

Previous research by the same research group had found that parts of the brain reward system where cocaine exerts its actions were significantly enlarged in cocaine users, which the scientists believe renders these individuals more vulnerable to the effects of the drugs.

Explore further: Abnormal brain structure linked to chronic cocaine abuse

Related Stories

Abnormal brain structure linked to chronic cocaine abuse

June 21, 2011

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified abnormal brain structures in the frontal lobe of cocaine users' brains which are linked to their compulsive cocaine-using behaviour. Their findings were published ...

Recommended for you

Flu study, on hold, yields new vaccine technology

September 2, 2015

Vaccines to protect against an avian influenza pandemic as well as seasonal flu may be mass produced more quickly and efficiently using technology described today by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the ...

We've all got a blind spot, but it can be shrunk

August 31, 2015

You've probably never noticed, but the human eye includes an unavoidable blind spot. That's because the optic nerve that sends visual signals to the brain must pass through the retina, which creates a hole in that light-sensitive ...

Biologists identify mechanisms of embryonic wound repair

August 31, 2015

It's like something out of a science-fiction movie - time-lapse photography showing how wounds in embryos of fruit flies heal themselves. The images are not only real; they shed light on ways to improve wound recovery in ...

New 'Tissue Velcro' could help repair damaged hearts

August 28, 2015

Engineers at the University of Toronto just made assembling functional heart tissue as easy as fastening your shoes. The team has created a biocompatible scaffold that allows sheets of beating heart cells to snap together ...

Fertilization discovery: Do sperm wield tiny harpoons?

August 26, 2015

Could the sperm harpoon the egg to facilitate fertilization? That's the intriguing possibility raised by the University of Virginia School of Medicine's discovery that a protein within the head of the sperm forms spiky filaments, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ironjustice
not rated yet Oct 07, 2011
When mice are given a natural substance it prevents the mouse from becoming addicted to cocaine. When addicts are given this natural substance it results in a 70% cure rate in opium addicts. One might wonder whether the LACK of this natural substance could be the underlying cause of addiction ?
"Acetylcholine enhancement in the nucleus accumbens
prevents addictive behaviors of cocaine and morphine "
"Lecithin may therefore be the method of choice for
accelerating acetylcholine synthesis"
"Results of treatment with lecithin and glucose: Mass scale trials"
"In this special series of 200 cases treated in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases (Calcutta) by this method, complete cure was effected in 70%, the dose was reduced by 80% in 10%, and by 50% in 15% of the cases. The treatment failed completely in 5%, and there was a relapse to the habit in the remaining 5%."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.