New addiction research being conducted at Cambridge University sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. Professor Barry Everitt claims that his work shows that it may be soon possible to treat addiction by wiping specific memories from people dealing with this type of problem. The idea is that if it is possible to weaken specific pathways related to the reward system, it will mean that those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs will suffer less from cravings.
The Process of Wiping Memories to Treat Addiction
This research is still in its early stages, so it may be some time before this leads to any actual treatment that can be used on humans. This work has only focused on rodents so far, but historically there have been many promising solutions to addiction that worked on rodents that have not turned out to be practical for humans.
The team led by Professor Barry Everitt has been able to target memory plasticity in rodents. It works by disrupting the shift in the brain from substance abuse being a voluntary act to it becoming a compulsion. This happens because the use of the drug becomes closely associated with the internal reward system. If the memory pathways that cause this to happen can be blocked, it can prevent the compulsion from developing. This is achieved by controlling certain brain chemicals. In their work with rodents, the team in Cambridge have successfully managed to block receptors in these animals’ brains, which helped to eradicate addictive behaviour.
How Feasible is Wiping Memories Going to Be for Treating Addiction?
It would be unfair to judge the work of Barry Everitt and his team so early in their research, but like so many similar ‘cure’s the focus here is on treating cravings rather than the cause of substance abuse. The most common reason why people turn to alcohol or drugs in the first place is that they just feel unable to cope with life. It is also this feeling of being unable to cope that drives individuals back to relapse or turn to new maladaptive behaviours in recovery.
There are regular stories in the media about miracle neuroscience cures that will end addiction. These reports are usually inaccurate or at least exaggerations of current research. The vast majority of these ‘miracle cures’ never lead to anything practical, just making for good newspaper headlines. It is way too early a stage in this current research to make any decision about its effectiveness, but it is certainly an interesting path to take that could lead to something that can be used to help people dealing with addiction.
Rehab Might be Better than Wiping the Brain
One of reasons that rehab can be such an effective path for treating addiction problems is that it does not just involve treating symptoms. People give up alcohol or drugs every day, but this does not necessarily mean they are going to live happily ever after. This is because all ending the physical addiction does is get the person back to square one, and all the reasons they fell into substance abuse are likely to still be there. Even if the person is strong enough to avoid relapse, there is still a high likelihood of them turning to new maladaptive behaviours unless they find a better way for dealing with life.
Controlling brain chemicals through medication can certainly play a part in addiction recovery, but this type of treatment seems to work best as a short-term solution. It can be particularly effective when combined with rehab or other addiction treatment options.