Western University Scientists Discover An Opiate Addiction Switch In The Brain

by baladmin | October 2, 2013

Opiate addiction can happen quickly and when it does, the person is rendered powerless of the drug, be it heroin, morphine, codeine, or a pharmaceutical version, like Vicodin, OxyContin, Norco, Percocet, or Opana.

Learning how opiates affect the brain can help determine appropriate prevention, education, intervention, and treatment measures so that the millions of people currently struggling with opiate addiction can be helped.

Current Research

The Addiction Research Group led by Steven Laviolette of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University, in London, Canada, have been working on that very subject. Scientists have been able to study and identify the part of the brain, the basolateral amygdala, that responds to heroin, in particular. Essentially, when the drug is introduced to the human system, a switch in the basolateral amygdala. is triggered. Since this part of the brain controls memory creation and recall, it has been deduced that heroin convinces the brain that it is to be remembered and used again.

The study, first conducted on rats, yields results that can change the way withdrawal, addiction, and relapse are addressed. Since the brain imprints a memory of heroin, the user recalls a place heroin was used, for example, as positive, and the brain reacts with a craving for heroin. When trying to stop using opiates, withdrawal symptoms are painful and extremely uncomfortable. With the glorified memories of heroin use in the brain, the person recalls only positive and wants to then use heroin again. Relapse is then a result of this brain process.

Implications for Opiate Treatment

Steven Laviolette, an associate professor in the Departments of Anatomy & Cell Biology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at Western University, who lead the study, says that, “These findings will shed important new light on how the brain is altered by opiate drugs and provide exciting new targets for the development of novel pharmacotherapeutic treatments for individuals suffering from chronic opiate addiction.”

Just like cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses, research results allow those working to create addiction treatments and cures to progress. New pharmaceutical drugs to help cancer patients can only be developed when scientists further understand what cancerous cells are doing in the human body, and the same is true for drugs and other forms of treatment that can help those addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Additional information, like the identification of heroin’s impact on the basolateral amygdala, boasts the process of prevention and treatment.

How Opiate Addiction is Currently Treated

With constant advancements in the understanding of addiction overall, and with opiates most specifically, substance abuse treatment professionals are able to improve the psychotherapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions they use on addicts seeking recovery. In other words, when we better understand how the brain interprets addiction, we can better treat it with the right combination of therapy and medication.

For opiates in particular, treatment efforts often seem successful, but are then followed by relapse. Even after months of sobriety, the desire to dull all pain and anxiety, and to escape are still very real. New research is now helping to explain why this is happening, but opiate addicts really need the next step: what can we do to counteract the positive memories the brain creates around opiate use?

Right now, formal treatment is the best way to treat opiate addiction. If you know someone who has been abusing opiates for any length of time, intervention is necessary. Opiate addiction treatment at Balboa Horizons has proven success in helping addicts create a new life without drugs.

Are you ready for change? Contact the treatment team now to find out the next step in taking back your life!