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TRIGGERS AND THE ADDICTED MIND

According to new research, a high blood-pressure drug may have the potential to lower the risk of relapse in recovering addicts. In a study published June 23rd in Molecular Psychiatry, an antihypertensive drug called isradipine was shown to profoundly affect the way addicted rats made associative decisions. Researchers led by Hitoshi Morikawa, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin, first trained rats to link exposure to cocaine or alcohol to either a white or black room; when given a choice between the two rooms, the addicted rats almost always chose to enter the one associated with drug use. After a select group was dosed with isradipine, however, their preferences were nearly eradicated, suggesting that the emotional connection between situation and drug had been severed.

Human addicts similarly form associations between drug use and particular situations. These situations, sometimes called triggers, can be the driving force behind a relapse; in twelve-step meetings, it’s often suggested that newly sober addicts avoid old “people, places, and things.” According to Morikawa, his research may lead to medication that would help recovering addicts successfully disassociate triggering situations from the urge to return to drugs or alcohol. In his words,

Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted. Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted.

The road to emotional stability and true recovery from addiction may always be a long one, though the journey itself can be rewarding. But a scientific advance that helps newly sober addicts make that first, essential break from using drugs and alcohol is very good news, indeed.

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