Treating any type of drug addiction is a very difficult process, with a high rate of relapse, Cocaine addiction, however, is one of the most challenging drugs to overcome, with 80 percent of all cocaine addicts experiencing a relapse within six months of finishing treatment.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have made two separate discoveries that offer hope for the treatment of cocaine addiction. The researchers believe that the treatment they have tested on animal models may open up opportunities for developing a pharmacological treatment for cocaine addiction.
In one study, the researchers tested the use of a common beta blocker, porpranolol in animal models to see whether it would prevent the brain from retrieving memories associated with cocaine use. The same drug is currently being used to treat hypertension and anxiety.
Authors Devin Miller and James Otis presented the research at the November 17 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego. Mueller says that this research is the first to demonstrate a therapeutic treatment effective in blocking the retrieval of memories associated with a drug addiction. The memories are a major reason that many cocaine addicts suffer relapse.
In addition to testing propranolol’s role in blocking cocaine memories, the team also identified the primary parts of the brain that are involved in extinction learning. Extinction learning is the ability to replace cocaine-associated memories with associations that do not have a drug “reward.”
Identifying the parts of the brain responsible for the memory functions opens opportunities for creating a pharmacological solution for treating drug addiction, says Mueller. At present, there are no medications approved by the FDA that are proven to successfully treat cocaine withdrawal.
The researchers believe that propranolol may work well in conjunction with exposure therapy In exposure therapy, patients are repeatedly exposed to stimuli that provoke cravings but do not provide satisfaction. When the exercise is repeated many times, the patient experiences less craving when presented with the stimuli.
The use of propranolol may even be effective in conjunction with exposure therapy without the requirement of additional doses of the medication. The researchers chose the drug because it has been used to ease the symptoms of withdrawal among patients in treatment for cocaine addiction. Patients who were given propranolol for withdrawal symptoms were able to participate in exposure therapy for longer periods.
While propranolol has been used for treating withdrawal symptoms, it has not been used before this research study to aid in memory suppression. Mueller says that identifying the parts of the brain that propranolol affects in memory suppression is the next step in determining whether it may be a promising medication for treating cocaine addiction.