Teenage substance abuse touches every kind of family regardless of race, social level or education. When a teen uses it never affects just themselves – it impacts everyone around them, especially other family members.
Family relationships become strained as a teen deepens their use of alcohol or drugs. This happens for many reasons. In the midst of substance abuse, teens can become secretive, irritable, depressed, lazy, hard to motivate and sometimes even angry or aggressive. Obviously, close relationships are negatively affected by this kind of personality and behavior change.
Family members may become angry themselves or develop avoidant behaviors in order to deal with an unruly teen under the influence. To avoid conflicts or feelings of guilt and rejection, the teen may increasingly isolate himself in his room away from the family, further weakening the familial bond.
Ignoring And Denying Teen Drug Use
Many families begin by ignoring or denying the existence of the problem, telling themselves it’s just a phase, or excusing the behavior because of difficult circumstances in the teen’s life.
Attempts are made to keep the problem secret and hidden from others. Unfortunately while the family is trying to protect the teen from direct consequences or prying eyes and wagging tongues, they are actually enabling the behavior and preventing the teen from getting much-needed help.
Enabling Teen Addicts
It isn’t unusual for family members to want to show love and mercy. When there’s a sob story parents and siblings may give the teen money, which typically goes to fund the habit. In other scenarios the addict doesn’t ask for money, they simply take it. Again, family members sometimes decide not to confront when money is suddenly missing from their purse or wallet.
Teen Substance Abuse On Younger Siblings
One huge impact of teen drug or alcohol abuse is the example it sets for younger siblings. Little brothers or sisters may decide to imitate the behavior. They start hanging out with the teen’s friends who are likely to be users themselves. Conversely, when siblings don’t respect the abuser it can create a rift in what was formerly a close relationship.
Parents get drawn into the fallout of teen substance abuse, blaming themselves or one another for the problem. Besides not resolving the issue it can wind up producing depression in one or both of the parents, compounding the family’s issues. Without a strong support network, parents and siblings can feel isolated, hurt and impotent.
Family Dangers With A Teen On Drugs And How To Intervene
The fact that teens can become violent while they are drunk or high creates an entirely separate risk issue from all of the relational breakdowns. They may become unpleasant to be around, even violent, and they may lie and steal, making everyone in the home feel terrorized.
What families need to do in order to halt the downward cycle of destruction is intervene. For some families this will mean signing the teen up for an outpatient program, for others it may mean placing the teen in a residential treatment center. Since getting at the root issues of substance abuse often takes time, some families opt for therapeutic boarding schools. Whatever the decision, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and enabling the problem only makes it worse.
07 Oct 2013
Naltrexone Limits Drug Cravings, Urges
It can feel overwhelming to make the necessary decisions regarding drug rehab treatment. You likely have many questions, from how long treatment will last to whether rehab will work. One of the decisions you may need to make is whether the medication naltrexone is the right therapy for you or an addicted loved one.
Naltrexone is a prescription drug used to treat both alcoholism and opioid addiction. Common brand names include Depade and ReVia. A once-a-month injectable form, called Vivitrol, is also available. This drug is often prescribed for a period of time ranging from a few months to a year. It may also be prescribed if a recovering drug addict starts experiencing cravings again or will be exposed to an environment where the urge to use will be intense.
How Naltrexone Helps Drug Cravings
Opioids, like heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone, are drugs that slow the body’s central nervous system activity and induce feelings of pleasure. Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist, which blocks the effects these drugs have on the brain. In other words, the drug takes away the intense high. The medication does not stop a person from doing drugs when he or she is actively using. It also will not stop or relieve withdrawal symptoms. However, its ability to block the euphoric high makes substance abuse less attractive to the addict.
Some studies have shown naltrexone to be effective at helping addicts prevent relapse. However, it’s important to note that the medication was used in conjunction with other addiction treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy. In one study, naltrexone was combined with counseling and addiction education for significant others to increase the addicts’ success rates.
Naltrexone is sometimes used in a process called rapid detoxification, which, as the name implies, is a method of speeding up detox. This must be done under strict medical supervision due to the risks involved. It is performed while the addict is under general anesthesia or sedation.
Before Taking Naltrexone
The drug’s primary use, however, is to prevent recovering addicts from experiencing the high that reinforces their continued use. This effective drug rehab treatment medication cannot be taken if a person is still using opioid drugs. As a general rule, an addict needs to be clean for at least seven to 10 days before starting naltrexone therapy. It’s common for the prescribing physician to order blood tests to ensure that there’s been no recent drug use.
Before taking this medication, addicts must go through detoxification if they haven’t already stopped using. Once they are clear of opioids, a physician will prescribe a low dose that will then be adjusted as necessary. Naltrexone should be taken on the prescribed schedule: daily, every other day, or every third day. It is often delivered in a clinical setting, but some addicts may be able to take it at home if supervised by a responsible family member.
Like any prescription medication, naltrexone does carry the risk of side effects. Most of the potential side effects are relatively mild. Users have reported headaches, drowsiness, upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle aches. The prescribing physician will provide a complete list of side effects and may be able to offer tips for reducing them. Naltrexone should not be taken by those with liver disease, acute hepatitis, or kidney disease, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Because this medication for drug addiction prevents opioids from working, it’s important to let your physician and any other health care providers know that you cannot take any opioid-containing medications. These include certain pain medicines, diarrhea medications and cough syrups.
Disadvantages of Naltrexone
While naltrexone can be an effective tool for drug rehab treatment, there are drawbacks. For instance, it works only when taken exactly as prescribed. Addicts with the urge to use often stop taking the drug or skip doses so they can use again. Others forget to take it. One study showed that heroin addicts who were supervised almost daily while taking the medication had better recovery rates than those who were supervised only three or four days a week.
Some addicts are hesitant to take it because they prefer to be entirely drug free. However, it’s important to remember that naltrexone is not a narcotic; nor is it a drug substitute therapy, like methadone. You can’t become addicted to naltrexone or get high from it. Using this medication is much like using a prescription to control other chronic disorders, such as diabetes or high cholesterol.
There’s another potential danger linked to the use of naltrexone. Since the drug blocks the high that comes from opioid drugs, some addicts may try to “get around” the medication and attempt to get high by taking larger-than-typical hits of their drug of choice. This is extremely dangerous because it can lead to overdose and, potentially, death.
Naltrexone And Addiction Treatment
This use of naltrexone as part of drug rehab treatment is not a magical cure; it can’t eliminate your addiction by itself. Rather, it’s just one more tool in a long-term strategy for recovery. Think of this medication as a way to clear your mind so you can build the healthy physical, emotional and cognitive foundation needed to maintain an addiction-free life.
As part of your treatment, you will be required to participate in individual or group addiction counseling. A trained therapist will help identify the factors that have contributed to your addictive behavior. Once those triggers are established, you will work to find healthier ways to cope with those emotions and behaviors.
Addiction professionals may recommend other tools as well. A support group, often in the form of a 12-step program, can be a powerful treatment strategy. By working with others who have experienced the same struggles, you will learn new ways to maintain recovery. Just as importantly, a good support group provides connections with others who understand exactly the challenges you are experiencing.
Finding support from family and friends is also crucial to recovery. Your addiction treatment team may recommend family or couples therapy to address relationship issues that contribute to your drug abuse. You’ll learn to identify sources of conflict as well as develop strategies for resolving them in a healthy and constructive way.
Naltrexone can be one part of a successful drug rehab treatment strategy. Talk to an addictions specialist to determine if this medication will help you on your road to recovery. It may be the extra tool you need to build a life free from the strain and dangers of addiction.
A recent study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports that the drug topiramate may help people battling cocaine addiction. More specifically, the study showed that people suffering from both cocaine and alcohol dependence may be more successful in treatment and use less cocaine if they are prescribed topiramate. These findings largely agree with previous, separate studies that also show topiramate’s potential usefulness for treating cocaine and alcohol addictions. However, this most recent study is the first to look at the drug’s effectiveness for people dealing with both dependencies at the same time.
What Is Topiramate?
Topiramate is an anticonvulsant drug that was discovered in 1979. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996 and has been primarily used to manage seizures in patients with epilepsy. Topiramate has also been frequently prescribed to prevent migraine headaches. In 2012, the FDA also approved topiramate for use as a weight-loss drug in combination with the drug phentermine.
One of the effects of topiramate is an increase in the amount of gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, or GABA, in the brain. This substance is a neuro-inhibitor, and researchers now hope that using topiramate to increase GABA levels may help limit the dopamine release that happens when people take cocaine or drink alcohol. This would reduce the euphoric feelings that result from these substances, and make it easier for people to resist cravings and fight addiction.
Details Of The New Study
Researchers in the psychiatry department of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania created and published the new topiramate study. These researchers were assisted by the Charles O’Brien Center for Addiction Treatment.
The study took place over 13 weeks, with the participation of 170 people who experienced both cocaine and alcohol dependence. The majority of the participants in the study were African-American males, and participants had an average age of 45.
Some of the patients were treated with topiramate, while others were given a placebo. The study employed a double-blind set-up, in which neither the patients nor the researchers knew who was taking the drug versus the placebo. This allowed researchers to examine the true effectiveness of the drug at reducing cravings, reducing overall consumption of cocaine and alcohol, and helping patients stay in treatment.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found both positive and neutral results for the effectiveness of topiramate. Patients who received the drug were more likely to remain in treatment and less likely to use cocaine during the last three weeks of the trial than those who received the placebo. Twenty percent of the participants on topiramate were able go without cocaine during the study, compared to only 7 percent of the participants on the placebo. Patients who had the worst withdrawal symptoms in the past seemed to benefit the most from topiramate.
However, the drug was not better than the placebo at reducing cocaine cravings. In addition, the drug did not help patients reduce their drinking even though they generally reported reduced alcohol cravings.
These results were somewhat surprising, since past studies have shown that topiramate did help people with alcohol dependence. The researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine have speculated that these poor results may reflect the low number of heavy drinkers who participated in the study. In past studies, the average number of days of heavy drinking among the study participants was much higher. It may be that topiramate is more effective for people who are very heavy drinkers.
What Is Next For Topiramate?
Although topiramate studies have been promising, additional research is needed to determine whether the drug can be a useful long-term tool for fighting cocaine and alcohol dependence. Researchers plan to perform more studies in order find out whether topiramate is effective when paired with additional drugs. By combining different drugs that have shown moderate success, researchers hope to produce even more impressive results for a greater percentage of patients.
Ultimately, larger scale studies will be necessary before the FDA can approve topiramate for additional treatment purposes.
Click Here – To Read More About Other Surprising Medications That Help Cocaine Addiction.
Cocaine is an illegal stimulant drug known for its ability to produce physical dependence by triggering long-term alterations in the brain’s normal chemical environment. The common ADHD medication methylphenidate (Ritalin, Methylin, Concerta) bears a strong chemical resemblance to cocaine, but produces less extreme changes in brain chemistry. In a study published in August 2013 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, a multi-institution research team examined the potential effectiveness of methylphenidate as a treatment for cocaine addiction. The members of this team concluded that the medication apparently reverses some of the critical changes in normal brain function produced by cocaine.
Cocaine Addiction Basics
Cocaine use can lead to physical dependence (i.e., addiction) because the drug sharply boosts the brain’s levels of a specific chemical responsible for producing pleasurable sensations. An individual who experiences this cocaine-related spike in pleasure levels typically heads toward physical dependence when he or she seeks to re-experience the drug’s stimulant “high” again and again over time. In mental health terms, cocaine addiction belongs to a larger illness classification called stimulant use disorder (which in turn belongs to an even larger category of conditions called substance use disorders). This classification includes all forms of addiction stemming from the use of stimulant drugs or medications. It also includes all forms of non-addicted abuse of stimulant drugs and medications. Since issues of abuse and addiction are commonly intertwined, the stimulant use disorder diagnosis replaces all separate diagnoses of stimulant abuse and stimulant addiction.
Like cocaine, Ritalin and all other forms of methylphenidate boost the brain’s levels of the chemical responsible for producing pleasure. Methylphenidate has this effect because it has a chemical structure that’s extremely close to the structure of cocaine. However, while cocaine triggers sharp, relatively extreme spikes in the amount of the brain’s pleasure-producing chemical, methylphenidate triggers a smoother, significantly less extreme increase in the amount of this chemical. If it’s taken in a manner not prescribed by a doctor, methylphenidate can easily play a role in abuse/addiction problems, just like cocaine or other stimulants such as amphetamine or methamphetamine. However, when used properly under a doctor’s supervision, it typically presents no unusual abuse or addiction risks.
In the study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from Stony Brook University and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism assessed the potential usefulness of methylphenidate in easing the effects of cocaine addiction. They decided to use methylphenidate specifically because of its structural resemblance to cocaine and its relatively weak ability to boost levels of the brain’s pleasure-producing chemical. In the same way that doctors can initially treat nicotine addiction with nicotine patches, the researchers wanted to know if it’s possible to initially treat cocaine addiction with methylphenidate. During the study, nine cocaine addicts received a single dose of methylphenidate on two separate occasions. After administering the methylphenidate, the researchers examined the participants’ brains with the help of modern, MRI-based imaging technology.
After reviewing the results of the participants’ brain scans, the researchers found that methylphenidate had two basic effects. First, when compared to a second group of cocaine addicts who did not receive methylphenidate, the addicts who did receive the medication experienced a significant reduction in activity in the part of the brain responsible for boosting pleasure levels. At the same time, these treated addicts also experienced an increase in activity in two other parts of the brain responsible for controlling emotions and regulating behavior. (These two brain areas are typically unusually low-functioning in people with cocaine addictions.) In follow-up interviews, the researchers asked the participants who received methylphenidate a series of questions designed to gauge any real-world changes in their levels of addiction. After completing these interviews, the study’s authors concluded that methylphenidate did indeed weaken the strength of the participants’ addiction-related thoughts and behaviors.
The authors of the study in JAMA Psychiatry did not look at the possible effects of long-term methylphenidate treatment on cocaine addiction. However, from their short-term experiments, they concluded that methylphenidate can potentially make brain changes that are critical to disrupting cocaine addiction and giving users of the drug a chance to assert the personal control necessary to successfully take part in long-term cocaine recovery. Despite this potential, the authors note the preliminary nature of their findings and emphasize the need for further research on methylphenidate as a treatment for cocaine addiction or other forms of stimulant addiction. No one should use methylphenidate on his or her own as a cocaine addiction treatment. Such unprescribed and unmonitored use would constitute a form of drug abuse.
A study has concluded that for some having an eating disorder could also mean an increased risk for alcohol abuse. The reverse is also true, that certain people with alcohol dependency may face higher chances of developing certain kinds of eating disorders.
For their study, researchers at the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis took a look at close to 6,000 fraternal and identical twins over age 18. Mental health practitioners and other experts have been aware for some time of a comorbidity between alcohol abuse and eating disorders in women, but this new study indicates that the link holds true for some men as well. The research has tended to focus on women since they’re most often the victims of disordered eating, but men suffer these illnesses as well, including binge eating.
Binge eating occurs when a person consumes an overabundance of food in a single sitting. This overeating is often done in secret and is followed by feelings of guilt, shame and being out of control. It’s frequently accompanied by purging wherein the person compensates for the large food intake by either causing themselves to vomit or misuse laxatives or diuretics. Experts refer to behaviors like purging as compensatory behaviors. The researchers did not ask men about purging behaviors such as diuretic and laxative abuse, but instead relied upon data from prior male studies. They did ask the women in the study about any potential purging behaviors. Compensatory behaviors like purging are considered closely connected to alcohol abuse behaviors.
Following the interviews, statistical methods were employed to calculate estimates for both the influence of environment and the influence of genes. Both eating disorders and alcohol dependency are thought to be a result of a mix of environmental and genetic causes. The statistical method carefully separated the two in order to gauge genetic impact alone. What they found was that the same genes were implicated in both alcohol dependency and binge eating disorders.
Around six percent of the females in the study had problems with alcohol dependency at one time or another during their life. Thirteen percent of them also struggled with binge eating and 14 percent of them also engaged in purging behaviors. More men (25 percent) reported alcohol dependency at some point and 11 percent of them had also engaged in binge eating.
This means that there was a .26 overall statistical correlation between binge eating and alcohol dependency (zero equals no genes in common and one equals every gene in common). For women the correlation was .32. The study team concluded that some of the very same genes which affect alcohol dependency also impact binge eating for both men and women along with compensatory behaviors (purging) in women.
There is increased awareness of eating disorders in today’s culture, but diagnoses of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (a binge and purge eating disorder) continue to be relatively infrequent. When men or women are diagnosed and admitted into treatment, there is rarely any examination into alcohol abuse issues as part of recovery therapy.
Likewise, when men or women enter into alcohol treatment, it is uncommon for staff to inquire or investigate any potential eating disorders. The Washington University study suggests that, given the genetic link between these two illnesses, recovery strategies should target both kinds of compensatory behavior.
The study is scheduled for publication in the September volume of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
The question of how we should deal with people with the brain disease of addiction isn’t an easy one. The criminalized approach, which would have drug users sitting in jail cells across the country and offers little in the way of medical help, has had its time in the sun. Putting people in jail accomplishes very little, with soaring re-arrest rates for drug crimes testament to the fact that merely punitive action is not enough to deal with the nation’s drug problem. This is the key idea behind drug courts — they aim to help drug users solve problems and get into treatment, rather than sending them straight to jail. Graduates of drug courts, like Melissa Swanger and Kathleen C., often become advocates for the approach, a testament to their ability to turn people’s lives around.
Introduction to Drug Courts
Drug courts are specialized courts for those addicted to drugs or alcohol. Rather than send people with recognized illnesses to jail over and over again, drug courts use a multi-pronged approach with the aim of reducing the chances of both relapse and re-arrest. They do this through interactions with a judge, treatment and rehabilitation services, monitoring, supervision, sanctions and incentives, all offered according to the individual’s requirements as determined by an initial risk and needs assessment. There are consequences for failure, however; if the individual continually relapses or commits crimes, the system effectively reverts to the ordinary, incarceration-based approach.
Melissa and Kathleen’s Stories
Melissa Swanger had no criminal record until she started using meth. Her goal was to lose weight, but in addition to the 60 to 70 pounds, she lost a lot more, including her home, her car and her children as a result of her addiction. Because there was no indication she was a criminal before she began taking meth, her lawyers pointed her in the direction of the local drug court. Eight years after her entry into drug courts (and seven after her graduation) she is still clean, having made a lasting change in her life, rebuilt relationships and taken responsibility for her actions. She called it “the toughest blessing I’ve ever had,” and went on to comment how the drug court team is “willing to help people instead of saying just throw away the key.” The approach worked wonders for her, and she’s never looked back.
Another story comes from Kathleen C., a mother who found herself committing crimes in order to fund her habit—which graduated from prescription drugs to heroin and meth—so she could use at all hours of the day. She started getting high at work and lost two jobs over the course of her addiction so that eventually she was only working “seasonally” so that employers didn’t catch on to her issues. Eventually, she was arrested for theft and forgery, a moment that became her turning point. After her three-month stretch, she asked to be sent to a drug court. Since then, she’s been clean, graduating in 2012 and managing to repair her relationship with her son. She fought the program at the beginning, but soon realized it was what she needed to overcome her addiction. Since graduating she has gotten engaged and has gained an associate’s degree in applied sciences. She says, “there’s a lot of beautiful things in my life today that I wouldn’t have thought possible.”
After finishing the program, Melissa and Kathleen have become advocates for the drug courts approach. Melissa has become a recovery group leader with a church and tells her own story to inspire others to make a change. The passion the recent graduates show for the program is a testament to its ability to change lives, and the advocates it produces may lead others to make similar decisions to improve their day-to-day existence.
Punishment for Addiction: A Thing of the Past?
The drug court approach seems to be proving that the traditional, punishment-based strategy for dealing with addiction is fundamentally flawed, but not everybody shares the enthusiasm of recent graduates. There are stories of those for whom drug courts did not work, as well as critiques from groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, who argue that drug courts are not cost-effective and leave some people worse off than when they started and that the approach is more punitive than the previous method. This is because they punish users for relapsing, generally with jail time and ejection from the program, with harsher sentences for those who’ve been deemed “failures” in their attempts to get clean. However, whether this is an issue with drug courts as a concept or with how they’re put into practice is unclear.
On the other hand, the National Institute of Justice offers statistics indicating that drug courts are effective at reducing costs to the justice system (an average of $1,400 cheaper per participant) and reducing rates of re-arrest by up to 28 percent over the course of two years. The Drug Policy Alliance alleges that these studies are poorly conducted and often focus on less serious cases, but don’t deny the effectiveness of the approach for some users.
It’s unclear whether drug courts really are as effective as they’re reputed to be, but with the alternative being jail time with no real assistance in getting clean—they must be a step in the right direction. Perhaps a more health-centered approach would be even better, but these types of moves must be made gradually. Maybe, just maybe, the days of punishing people for a health problem are coming to an end.
29 Aug 2013
Drug May Help Teens Overcome Cocaine Addiction
Teens being treated for substance addiction may soon have a new tool to combat their drug problem. A new study finds that outcomes are improved for cocaine addiction treatment when the drug Topamax is included as part of the strategy for recovery.
Treating cocaine addiction can be challenging. Teens that begin using cocaine can become addicted quickly, and when treatment is sought and completed, relapse can be common. Teens often enter into a cycle of recovery and relapse with cocaine addiction.
Addiction to Alcohol
It is common for teens addicted to cocaine to also be addicted to alcohol. Abuse and addiction of both substances can make treatment complicated. For some, the traditional route of cognitive behavioral therapy is not an effective strategy for recovery to be a permanent state.
Topamax, a drug often prescribed for the purposes of treating epilepsy and, in more recent cases, weight loss, has been shown to help those attempting recovery from cocaine and alcohol addiction.
The research team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine used a double-blind, placebo-controlled design to test the effectiveness of topiramate in treating addiction, particularly in cases where cocaine addiction is complicated with a dependence on alcohol.
Previous studies have proven the effectiveness of topiramate in treating alcohol addiction. Other studies have shown that it can help prevent relapse in those who have received treatment for cocaine addiction. However, this is the first study to explore its application in treatment for a combined addiction to cocaine and alcohol.
The study’s results are critical because those who struggle with cocaine addiction commonly also struggle with alcohol dependence. Targeting the addictions as a unit may be an effective strategy to make recovery more successful.
The study was conducted over a 13-week period that included 170 individuals who met criteria for alcohol and cocaine addiction. The trial produced mixed results.
The researchers discovered that the drug was effective at reducing the cravings for alcohol, but actual drinking did not decrease. It was not found to impact cocaine cravings.
However, the study participants that were taking topiramate were more likely to remain in treatment and avoid cocaine use during the last three weeks of the trial when compared to participants who were taking a placebo.
The researchers also found that participants taking topiramate were more likely to benefit from the drug if they reported more severe withdrawal symptoms. Those who indicated a high level of restless behavior, agitation and depressed mood were more likely to report benefiting from topiramate.
Counseling and the Drug
First author of the paper, Kyle M. Kampman, M.D., professor of psychiatry and medical director at the Charles O’Brien Center for Addiction Treatment, explains that while counseling is the first choice for addiction, there are some patients who are not responsive to this strategy.
The results of the study indicate that for those who have a particularly treatment-resistant addiction, the addition of a topiramate treatment in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy may result in better outcomes.
The study’s findings add to a growing body of research that supports the use of topiramate to aid in treating addiction. A previous study conducted in 2005 provided evidence that addicts treated with the drug were able to abstain from cocaine use for three weeks or longer.
The researchers note that the failure of topiramate to reduce alcohol use was puzzling, but may be explained by the severity level of that particular group of participants. The effects may be more visible when an individual has a habit of drinking heavily.
The Test Subjects
The study’s findings were the result of a trial conducted among a group of addicts who had an average age of 45 years and which was largely composed of African-American males. The groups of men examined using the drug of treatment and a placebo were similar in terms of sociodemographic variables or drug and alcohol use.
The findings of the study were published in a recent issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
27 Aug 2013
Can Magnets Fight Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine addiction is one of the toughest illnesses to treat. Although scientists do not yet understand the entire mechanism of addiction, it is believed that the brain’s pleasure center plays a major role in the disease. Pleasure center cells appear in the prefrontal cortex and have long been thought to be responsible for impulse control. In fact, it is believed that a low level of activity in the prefrontal cortex is one characteristic of an addict.
The method used to treat cocaine addiction has traditionally been a combination of abstinence and psychotherapy or behavioral therapy. Given how strong cocaine addiction can be, however, many people do not stay in recovery permanently. In fact, it can take several cycles of drug rehab to finally be free of the relentless cravings. By this point, many cocaine addicts have suffered from the consequences of prolonged addiction such as organ damage, social issues, family problems, financial disaster and job loss.
Prefrontal Cortex Activity and Cocaine Addiction
There is new hope for people suffering from cocaine addiction and it comes in the form of a potential cure, not just remission. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of California at San Francisco have been able to eradicate cocaine addiction in rats by focusing beams of laser light into their brain matter.
The scientists used genetic engineering to place rhodopsins (proteins that react to light) directly into the rats’ brain cells at the prefrontal cortex. When light is introduced, those particular cells will fire. The rats were then administered enough cocaine to develop a bona fide addiction, the hallmark of which is engaging in behavior that will result in the administration of more cocaine.
Using fiber optic cabling implanted in the tiny brains, the researchers were able to direct laser beams onto the brain cells that contained the rhodopsins. Once these prefrontal cortex neurons were activated, the subject immediately stopped all cocaine-seeking behavior. When the light was extinguished, the rats resumed behavior associated with addiction.
Although this is great news for those engaged in addiction research, the practical implications are less clear. At issue is the ability to activate prefrontal cortex neurons in human beings on a continuous basis without affecting activities of daily life. Although it is certainly possible to carry out surgical experiments similar to those undertaken by the NIH, invasive brain surgery is not something we would consider as a long-term treatment method.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Cocaine Addiction
Thankfully, scientists are already researching ways to activate prefrontal cortex neurons in cocaine addicts’ brains without using a scalpel. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) involves using a magnetic field on top of the scalp to influence behavior of the cells below the skull. This non-invasive and completely pain free process uses a coil to focus the magnetic field onto particular areas and patients experience nothing more serious than the feeling of being tapped on the head. In order to activate the cells, a high-frequency pulse is used.
The NIH plans to begin human trials of the treatment soon and hopes to show that TMS can activate prefrontal cortex neurons as effectively as the laser-light method. It remains unclear whether the relief achieved will be only temporary and, thus, require indefinite treatments. In any event, TMS may provide craving relief long enough to allow more traditional methods of cocaine addiction treatment to take hold.