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Blood Pressure And Addiction: New Medication May Help Drug Users Quit

First Posted: Jun 23, 2015 08:19 PM EDT
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Blood pressure medications are typically prescribed if lifestyle changes alone aren't enough to lower levels. Yet could a blood pressure medication also suppress memories that feed an addiction?

New findings published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that it could potentially help individuals with alcohol or cocaine addictions avoid relapse.

The drug, otherwise known as DynaCirc (Isradipine), is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for patients with high blood pressure. If the treatment is proven effective in humans, this medication would be the first of its kind to help erase unconscious memories associated with relapsing addictions.

Scientists have long-pegged drug addiction with physical craving only. In fact, it wasn't until the 1970s that they started linking environmental clues, including people, places, sights and sounds, to the triggers of relapses.

"Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted," said Hitoshi Morikawa, an associate professor of neuroscience at The University of Texas at Austin, in a news release. "Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted."

During the study, researchers trained rats to associate either a black or white room with the use of a drug. When the addicted rats could choose which room they preferred, they always chose the room they associated with their addiction.

Yet one day, the researchers gave them a high dose of the antihypertensive drug isradipine before they made their choices. Though most still preferred their addicted choice, they no longer showed a preference on subsequent days. Furthermore, the lack of preference persisted in the isradipine-treated group and not in the control group, suggesting that addiction memories had not simply been suppressed but may have actually disappeared altogether.

"The isradipine erased memories that led them to associate a certain room with cocaine or alcohol," said Morikawa.

Addictive drugs are actually thought to rewire brain circuits involved in reward learning, forming powerful memories of drug-related cues. Antihypertensive drugs can help to block a particular type of ion channel that is expressed not only in the heart and blood vessels but also in certain brain cells. Researchers found that by blocking these ion channels in brain cells, using isradipine, "appears to reverse the rewiring that underlies memories of addiction-associated places," according to a news release

"Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted," he concluded. "Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted."

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