Addiction treatment is challenged by the fact the brain has a mind of its own. No matter how much you may want recovery, what you desire may not always be what your brain desires. One of the hardest challenges to beat in recovery is the cravings. and your brain is the one in control. You may be determined to live a clean and sober life, but if your brain sees, smells, thinks, or hears anything remotely connected to the drug you were addicted to, your brain feeds your dopamine receptors just enough to kick in a powerful craving. It’s almost like the brain teases your receptors awake.
Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Medications used to combat opioid cravings can be like that too, providing just enough chemicals to keep your receptors satiated, but not enough to get you high. For some, these types of treatment medications work good enough to help them get past the cravings, but they don’t work for everyone.
Scientists Block Happy-Feel-Good Response
Scientists are keenly aware of the gap in patient results with current treatments and have been working to develop therapies that prevent the brain from falling victim to its own rewards system. Check it out: right now, you might be treated with buprenorphine, which is a drug that binds to opioid receptors and provides them with a tiny amount of what they are craving.
New Drugs Being Developed Block Cravings
They block the enzymes that trigger the neurons that release dopamine that feeds the receptors. Instead of working at the end of the process, these drugs start at the beginning.
One of these drugs, vigabatrin, is already on the market but for some, the dose required for it to be effective is high, which can increase the risk of serious side effects or adverse events. Enter OV329, a new drug currently in early phase clinical trials that has a 100-times stronger bond than vigabatrin. OV329 is like Gorilla Glue, sticking to the enzymes and preventing the release of dopamine. It basically stops the brain’s reward system before it gets started.
How well does it work? Addicted rats that self-administer cocaine or nicotine were treated with OV329 and researchers found that the dopamine spikes were dampened which blocked the reward response and stopped the rats from taking more of the drug they were addicted to.
Cocaine Addiction Drug Therapy Shows Success in the Lab
Located in the center of the reward system, D3 receptors influence reward and motivation areas of the brain. People with cocaine addictions have a preponderance of these receptors in their neural pathways so being able to control them could improve recovery success. D3R-blockers have been shown to significantly reduce lab rats’ need to self-administer drugs like opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamines. And while early variations of the medication weren’t very stable, newer variations are. In fact, rats addicted to oxycodone dramatically reduced their intake after being treated with the newer D3R blockers. Research is still in the early phase, but the results of rat and primate studies have shown promising results.
Uses for these new drug addiction therapies may go far beyond the current target groups. In fact, because of how and where they work in the brain, these types of medications may even be effective for other types of addictions and compulsions such as eating, shopping, and gambling.