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How to help a drug addict

How to help a drug addict

One of the main issues relating to drug dependence is the possibility of relapse. Alongside the therapeutic and psychological programmes addressing this risk within treatment for drug dependency, there have been increases into research on preventative drugs to help avoid relapse.

Drugs have an effect on the brains reward system and leads to the user relapsing due to an attempt to experience the pleasure associated with the drug use. Cues associated with the drug taking environment lead to cravings experienced by the individual.

The way to help a drug addict avoid relapse is to be addressing these risks and cues which lead to cravings for the drug. Through making the individual aware of possible stimuli associated with the previous environment they would take drugs in, highlighting their trigger points and teaching them coping strategies and skills of what to do in this situation, it can help reduce the risk of relapse.

One form of treatment that does this is known as extinction therapy. This aims to break the associations between drug use and environmental cues. In addition to this the usage of a memory enhancing drug can lead to removing the specific context of extinction therapy, therefore allowing the dissociation of drug use and related environments even outside of treatment clinics. This means the results of this form of therapy can be more effective outside of the clinic setting in which it is learnt.

A similar study used a beta blocker to stop memories associated with drug use being retrieved, therefore preventing the individual experiencing the normal cravings that would subsequently occur following these memories.

Another chemical based treatment has also been identified through using an amino acid derivative.

This reverses changes caused by a cocaine dependence on the brains circuits that regulate rewards, therefore reducing the likelihood of relapse due to cravings associated with this reward circuit.

In addition to the chemical treatments, brain mechanisms have also been identified as a cause for relapse due to changes in memory circuits. An individual reception in the brain leads to strong memories being created in regards to the rewarding symptoms experienced when using a drug. When this receptor was not present in mice it reduced their tendencies to relapse, compared to mice with normal numbers of the receptor.

The research in this area continues, with varying levels of success, and is beginning to examine and explore in more depth how these drugs and brain mechanisms work, and allow the cravings and relapses rates to reduce.

M. Novak, B. Halbout, E. C. O'Connor, J. Rodriguez Parkitna, T. Su, M. Chai, H. S. Crombag, A. Bilbao, R. Spanagel, D. N. Stephens, G. Schutz, D. Engblom. Incentive Learning Underlying Cocaine-Seeking Requires mGluR5 Receptors Located on Dopamine D1 Receptor-Expressing Neurons. Journal of Neuroscience, 2010; 30 (36): 11973 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2550-10.2010

Society for Neuroscience (2009, October 23). Amino Acid May Help Reduce Cocaine Cravings. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 4, 2020,

Society for Neuroscience (2010, August 4). Memory-boosting drug may help cocaine addicts avoid relapse. ScienceDaily. Retrieved

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (2010, November 18). Hope for treatment of cocaine addiction: Block memories. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 4, 2020, from

Published by PCUG Addiction Treatment on 04/08/2020.

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