Drug memories and relapse: A light at the end of the tunnel?

From All About Addiction:

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 possibly reduce the effect of drug-triggers by giving people a pill?

The answer is not, in fact, that simple. Even in the studies already done in PTSD patients, the memories have to be triggered and the drug given at exactly the right time to be affective. In fact, in humans, some of the best work has been done in PTSD patients immediately after the traumatic event.

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 the responding after a single dose of a substance that blocked memory formation. Again, this only worked if the drug was given while the light (as in the drug-trigger) was presented at the same time.

Either way, given the powerful role of triggers in relapse, this avenue of research has some promising possibilities for future treatment of drug addiction.

I’ll keep you updated as more research comes out.