Beta blockers, addiction, and craving help: The new holy grail?

From all-about-addiction:
Okay, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but I’m pretty excited about one study in particular that I heard about while in DC (for a Society For Neuroscience conference).

I’ve already written about a study by the renowned addiction researcher Barry Everitt showing that medications could be used in treatment to help addicts who are struggling with strong cravings and the effect of triggers (see it here). Still, my original idea had to do with using very common pharmacological interventions, ones being used every day for hypertension, and more recently, in the treatment of PTSD.

Well, a study recently completed revealed that indeed, propranolol, a common beta-blocker, may be useful in greatly reducing the amount of time needed to overcome the sometimes crippling effect of triggers on behavior.

The researchers trained rats to take cocaine, and after they were well trained, allowed them to press a lever for a light that had previously been associated with the drug. Animals given propranolol took half as long to stop pressing for the drug-associated light. It took multiple administrations of propranolol (seven to be exact), but the effect was clear. The next step is to see if the same effect can be observed in people.

I’ve been claiming for the past few years that if we look in the right places, we can find many ways to help struggling addicts who are having a hard time quitting using currently available methods. I think that the notion that sticking to the “best method we have right now” (a dubious claim that most 12 step followers ascribe to) is unwise given the fact that science has progressed quite a bit since the 1930s, when the group formed. I agree, and am thankful, that the system works for some, but many others leave the rooms without finding a solution, a fact that AA members see as a moral failing.

I’ve been studying addiction for the past 7 years; It’s time to quash the moral view of addiction once and for all and seek solutions that work. I think we’re well on our way…


Ashley N. Fricks-Gleason & John F. Marshall (2008). Post-retrieval β-adrenergic receptor blockade: Effects on extinction and reconsolidation of cocaine-cue memories. Memory & Learning, 15, 643-648