Daniel Hynes

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A pill to cure alcohol addiction

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"Scientists have known for years how heavy use of alcohol and drugs works on reward centers in the brain to drive dependence. The new research, including a study published in November in JAMA Internal Medicine and early-stage drug testing at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is revealing another, darker side to how such substances impact the brain. By transforming its chemical architecture, drinking and drug use trigger feelings of anxiety and tension that can only be eased by more consumption."


While this dark side has been documented in laboratory animals and in some human testing, its validity in people was significantly bolstered by the recent JAMA-published study, led by Dr. Mason, indicating that a drug that targets dependency's stressful effects helped quitters. Its findings: About 45% of the 150 alcoholics who took the highest dose of the drug, known generically as gabapentin, either stopped drinking altogether or did so only occasionally.

In 2011, more than 21 million Americans needed treatment for a problem related to alcohol or drugs, according to the federal government's most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Many try to quit, but studies show 60% or more of alcoholics and drug addicts relapse within a year of trying to kick their habit, addiction specialists say."


More recent research is showing that the brain's stress response also contributes to dependence. Years of heavy drinking or drug use remodels the circuitry in and around a part of the brain known as the amygdala where these feelings of anxiety are triggered, saysGeorge Koob,who pioneered study of this dark side of addiction. The brain's stress system is sent into overdrive.

The result: constant feelings of tension that alcohol or drugs temporarily lighten, but which worsen over the longer term. "You're kind of digging a hole every time you fix the hole," says Dr. Koob, a Scripps scientist who is the incoming director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism."

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Guest Monday, 27 May 2024