The current research, which was done in rats, identified this pathway as a possible means both for preventing relapse, but also for preventing alcohol addiction in the first place.
The authors of the study believe that their research will lead to testing their methods in humans. If this works, they may be able to expand their medication to treat tobacco and other addictions.
“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 Barak, the lead author. “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 specific area of the brain targeted by the research is called the amygdala. A portion of this part of the brain was found to be tied directly to an addicts desire for alcohol. When alcohol addicted rats were given drink, they instantly got a strong signal to a portion of their amygdala. If the scientists block this pathway, the rats did not receive the signal and stopped drinking.
“One of the main problems in alcoholism is relapse, and there are not many treatments. Even with an efficient treatment, 70% to 80% of the patients will relapse in the first year,” Barak says. “It’s really thrilling that we were able to completely erase the memory and prevent relapse in these animals. This could be a revolution in treatment approaches for addiction, in terms of erasing unwanted memories and thereby manipulating the brain triggers that are so problematic for people with addictions” he said.