About a year ago, while sitting in a lecture on learning and memory, the idea that certain drugs can affect the emotional responses to memory long after the memory itself has been formed came up. As someone interested in addiction research, the implication for treatment immediately came up in my head:
Could we reduce the effect of triggers by giving people a pill?
In one word – Yes! But, the answer is not, in fact, that simple. Even in the studies already done in PTSD patients, the memories have to be re-triggered and the drug given at exactly the right time to be effective. In fact, in humans, some of the best work has been done in PTSD patients immediately after the traumatic event.
Addiction help through relapse prevention
Still, a recent study in animals suggests that the theory is sound. By interfering with the activity of a neurotransmitter important in the formation of memories, researchers were able to stop animals trained to self-administer cocaine from doing so. The animals, which had been trained to push a lever for cocaine when a light went on, reduced, or even stopped responding after a single dose of a substance that blocked memory formation. Essentially, the researchers prevented the animals from relapse. Again, this only worked if the drug was given while the light (as in the drug-trigger) was presented at the same time.
More recent studies, using repeated doses of the drug propranolol, have been shown to have an even more promising effect. Check out my coverage of that research here.
Given the powerful role of triggers in relapse, this avenue of research has some promising possibilities for future treatment of drug addiction.
A recent addiction research article combined findings from 31 different studies to assess the impact of large terrorism events on rates of alcohol, cigarettes, and drug use. The researchers noted that most of the studies occurred after the World Trade bombing of September 11th, 2001.
- After controlling for the level of exposure, type of event, and length since exposure, the evidence suggests that somewhere between 7%-14% of the population affected by the terrorism will show an increase in their rates of alcohol use.
- For cigarettes smoking, the average is somewhere between 7%-10%.
- Drug use, including narcotics and prescription medication, increased an average of 16% to as high as 50% or more. There’s no doubt that a large portion of that increase is due to increased prescription drug use, most likely anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, etc.
Overall, the findings certainly show that a large-scale terrorism event affects the daily life of citizens, especially in terms of their coping using drugs and alcohol. Hindsight is 20/20, but hopefully next time, we’ll be ready to help people deal with such catastrophes while helping them steer away from possible dependence on drugs down the line.
DiMaggio, Charles; Galea, Sandro; Li, Guohua (2009) Substance use and misuse in the aftermath of terrorism. A Bayesian meta-analysis. Addiction, Volume 104, 894-904.
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I’m in DC right now, attending the annual meeting of the Society For Neuroscience (sfn.org). I have been learning about new exciting developments related to addiction for the past 4 days and can’t wait to share them with you.
Watch out for some great new stuff!!!