When it comes to treating and beating addiction, we often think of what must happen externally. Not only does someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol need to stop consuming their substance of choice, but they also often need to make major lifestyle changes. These changes range from acquiring new hobbies to severing ties with old ‘friends.’ This is what first comes to mind because it is the human element of overcoming addiction; it is the one that requires willpower and mindfulness on the part of the addict. It is, in essence, in the control of that person and their support system.
We don’t often think about the hard science behind what makes something addictive. When assessing treatment options, the conversation is not often driven by questions about getting the proper amount of endorphins or the molecular structure of opioids. But, in fact, these are the things that make drugs and alcohol dangerous. Science reveals to us what makes addictive things addictive, and how the human body develops a need for it. As such, it is essential that we keep a close eye on the developments the scientific community is making in fighting addiction.
Sometimes, that fight takes on the form of attempting to prevent future cases of addiction. We know that some people become addicted to things like opioids by accident. Perhaps they have a surgery, or chronic pain issue that a doctor prescribes something like Vicodin or Oxycontin, and then either fail to follow the doctor’s orders, or simply take the drug for too long. Both of these things are mistakes, no doubt, but they can have horrible consequences. Ideally, doctors should just stop prescribing these things. However, current alternatives on the market simply are not as effective, and the fact remains that there are many people who do need the relief it provides in controlled doses.
Fortunately, that isn’t stopping scientists from attempting to develop a drug that works like an opioid, but without the addictive properties. This potential drug has the ability to relieve conscious pain, without suppressing breathing or activating the “dopamine circuit,” which is a large factor in the biological mechanisms of developing an addictive behavior. What’s more, it does not affect the body’s ability to recognize “reflex pain,” which is the body’s way of avoiding injury due to things like hot objects. While tests in mice have proven to be promising for its usage in humans, it will still be a few years before it can be tested on humans.
Scientists are making headway in terms of ending addiction in patients, as well. While it might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, they are exploring the options for erasing drug-related memories. For example, when someone is high on cocaine, their brain builds up an excess of the neurochemical dopamine. This causes the person to feel sensations of euphoria. The memories made during this time are associated with that neurochemical buildup, making those memories intensely positive. The trouble with addiction sets in because the body wants to achieve those levels of enjoyment again, which leads to using the drug again. But, if those memories could be wiped away, while leaving other memories in tact, someone who is addicted could, ostensibly, no longer have the urge to use those drugs again. Certain molecules can block the pathway to those memories, and they are being actively researched to find ones that will work without damaging the rest of the brain.
Without the help of scientific research, fighting the battle against addiction in all of its forms would be nigh-on-impossible. But with advancements being made in the field every day, we are looking at a brighter future.