A new, Florida-based study is seeking to revolutionize the way addiction and drug abuse is treated. Lead by Courtney Miller, an Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience with the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, FL, scientists believe they may be able to treat long-term addiction by suppressing the memories associated with drug use.
“Memory has always fascinated me,” Miller said in an interview with the Washington Post. “We are a collection of our memories. That’s what makes things like Alzheimer’s so awful is that you lose that thread of who you are. So I’ve taken my interest in memory and applied it to different ways that we can help people: addiction, PTSD and … Alzheimer’s.”
Miller believes that, if successful, medication developed as a result of the study could remedy a large gap in current medicinal addiction recovery aids. Where patients who have undergone abstinence therapy note being in good health and having few cravings shortly after the withdrawal phase, within three months of completing treatment they begin to experience intense cravings and an inability to feel pleasure. At this point abstinence patients often relapse and risk overdosing due to a lower drug tolerance.
Medications can be taken to help negate the symptoms of withdrawal and biological dependence, thereby increasing the chance of long-term recovery. However, as Miller notes, the options are limited.
“A few, moderately effective replacement therapies exist for opiate, nicotine and alcohol dependence. However, no such options exist for psychostimulant [meth, cocaine and MDMA] dependence, and further, there are no pharmacotherapies for the prevention of relapse associated with any drug of abuse.”
The research team is currently attempting to further study the unique differences between ‘normal memories’ and those associated with drug use. “Memories that are storing associations with drugs like methamphetamine seem to be using different mechanisms in the brain than other, more mundane memories,” she said. “When the [meth] memory is sort of sitting there in the brain it’s behaving differently than other memories.”
With further grants and funding, they hope to understand the way memory storage is effected by the introduction of a controlled substance and how that may be applied to developing medication that has the potential to make recovery as simple as taking a single pill.
If given the option, would you participate in this type of treatment?