A new study, led by Dr. Segev Barak of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, Prof. Dorit Ron and Prof. Patrician Janak of the University of California at San Francisco, offers new methods for alcoholics to remain sober and stave off relapse.
The research, thus far only conducted on lab rats, suggests that turning off certain sections in the brain deactivates the cravings they have for alcohol, and therefore do not seek to consume it.
The study, conducted in Professor Ron's lab at the University of California, has since been published in an online science publication, Nature Neuroscience.
The team of Professors believe that this breakthrough research will pave the way for fighting off other similar addictions, including tobacco.
“One of the main causes of relapse is craving, triggered in the memory by certain cues – like going into a bar, or the smell or taste of alcohol,” said Professor Barak.
“What we learned is that when rats were exposed to the smell or taste of alcohol there was a small window of opportunity to target the area of the brain that reconsolidates the memory of the craving for alcohol and to weaken or erase the memory – and thus the craving.”
The team's findings showed that by using a drug called rapamycin, they were able to absolve the alcohol-memory of rats. After consuming alcohol for weeks, those rats that were given the drug did not relapse in the following days whereas the rats that were not given the drug experienced relapse as soon as their memory of having alcohol was realized.
“One of the main causes of relapse in alcoholics are memories linking objects and places connected to alcohol consumption, such as shops, liquor bottles, and of course the smell and taste of alcohol,” said Dr. Barak.
According to Barak, eliminating these alcohol-related memories will decrease the percentage rates for alcoholics who relapse.
Essentially, by disabling one particular protein in the body, those memories that would have taken the lab rats 'off' the wagon are, in a sense, "removed," thus eliminating any cravings for alcohol they might have had.
“We found that other memories not related to alcohol, such as memories associated with natural rewards such as sugar, were unaffected. The disruption generated a deletion of memories related to alcohol, and was very strong. These rats simply have not returned to look for alcohol,” said Barak.
Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life