Memory reconsolidation helps reduce drug cravings and prevent future relapses
Cue-exposure therapy (CET) is a type of behaviour therapy for treating drug addiction. It helps patients cope with their cravings by repeatedly exposing them to drug-related cues, such as the sight and sound of someone else taking drugs. Unfortunately, patients who undergo CET often succumb to drugs again after treatment.
Lin Lu at Peking University and co-workers have now discovered a way to increase the effectiveness of CET and thus reduce the possibility of future relapses after treatment. The procedure does not require any pharmacological agents, but instead rely on memory reconsolidation — a process that involves the retrieval and manipulation of past memories.
The researchers tested their idea by presenting a short video containing images of heroin use to heroin addicts, prior to their CET sessions. They found that patients who watched the video ten minutes prior to CET had reduced cravings for heroin, and that the effect lasted up to 180 days after treatment. In comparison, patients who watched the video six hours prior to CET had reduced cravings initially, but most succumbed to heroin again after treatment.
The researchers obtained similar results with rats that were addicted to cocaine or morphine. They believe that the brief reminder of past memories (memory retrieval) prior to behavioural therapy (memory manipulation) can greatly enhance the effects of the therapy.
Published online 2 May 2012
Based off of the article:
Xue, Y. X. et al. A memory retrieval-extinction procedure to prevent drug craving and relapse. Science 336, 241–245 (2012).
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