Novelty may help trump the power of addictive drugs

By chillinwill · Feb 2, 2010 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    A new study has shown that the trying something new and innovative activities may help trump the power of addictive drugs.

    The researchers found that novelty drew cocaine-treated rats away from the place they got cocaine.

    Novelty could help break the vicious cycle of treatment and relapse, especially for the many addicts with novelty-craving, risk-taking personalities, the authors said.

    In the multi-stage study, Carmela Reichel, PhD, and Rick Bevins, PhD, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, trained rats to prefer one side of a large Plexiglas apparatus by injecting them with one of three different doses of cocaine before placing them in that side.

    For the next eight days, the researchers alternated placing rats in one side or the other, injecting cocaine before placing them on one side, or injecting saline solution before placing them on the other.

    This simple procedure left the rats, when drug free and given a choice, significantly more likely to visit the side where they had felt the rewarding effects of cocaine.

    In the next stage, for another eight days, the researchers tried to break the tie between drug and place by introducing novelty. Now, when rats were placed into the saline-paired compartment, half found something new there -- a white sock, a little piece of PVC pipe, a plastic scouring pad or balled-up newspaper. The remaining rats were given the same bare compartment as before.

    Next, the rats were injected with saline solution instead of cocaine and placed -- on alternate days - in either the side paired with cocaine or with novelty. That would be like recovering addicts going back to the place they took drugs, a major cause of relapse. Alternating placements helped researchers counteract rats'' natural tendency to spend more time in unfamiliar places, and equalize the time they spent in each context.

    Finally, to test whether novelty could still compete with drug-linked cues, drug-free rats were placed between compartments to see where they would go. Rats that had been trained on 7.5 and 20, but not 30, cocaine milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of weight and then given novel objects spent equal time on both sides. That is, they went back and forth between the places they had experienced both cocaine and novelty. Rats that did not receive the novel objects spent more time where they had experienced the effects of cocaine.

    Drugged rats that had been trained on 7.5 mg/kg of cocaine and then given novel objects also gave both sides equal attention. However, rats that had been trained on 20 or 30 mg/kg of cocaine and then given novel objects still preferred the cocaine-paired over the novelty side.

    By understanding how long and how well novelty can compete with the allure of addicting drugs, researchers may start to consider using it in the real world. The human equivalent of new "toys" - such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting and snow skiing -- could work as a behavioural reward.

    The research is published by the American Psychological Association.

    February 2, 2010
    New Kerala

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  1. beena
    ^ That's a really interesting subject and idea: it will be interesting to find out how effective it is when applied to human-beings as opposed to rats though as obviously humans (one would assume), are far more complex creatures.
    Nevertheless, any drug-worker SWIM has ever spoken too (and recovered or recovering addicts too), has said that in order for an addict to truly beat their addiction they must first completely overhaul their life and change their patterns of behaviour, the people they associate with, the places they go and the things they do. It doesn't necessarily have to be as drastic as scuba-diving, abseiling, mountaineering, etc, but SWIM guesses new hobbies and activities that a person enjoys and can really get involved in and focus on are essential tools in the fight against addiction. It totally makes sense to SWIM ... the main problem for a lot of people (including SWIM) is putting this into practise, esp. when you have the pain of physical withdrawals or the lethargy, physical and/or mental exhaustion and depression or a general low mood to deal with: it's hard to get motivated sometimes with all this stuff going on.
  2. Phenoxide
    It's an interesting concept, but one has to wonder whether a white sock or PVC tubing would be sufficiently novel for humans. How much novelty would be required to override such engrailed behavior? If one requires constant novelty then it's hard to imagine that someone with all the physical and emotional baggage that comes with addiction could remain drug-free in the long term. Maybe it'd be possible with unlimited funds, but the reality is that life is often boring and routine.

    Besides as a species we are masters of having our cake and eating it too - surely we'd opt for a scenario that offers both the drug and novelty. Even the rats choose to do this! I fail to see how this has therapeutic potential unless the rats actively choose the novelty over drugs.

    Also, isn't the most obvious and available form of novelty for an addict to take other drugs? The only upshot of this study as far as I can tell is that it might recreate the human behavior of partially substituting an addiction with another one. There's potential for investigating the behavior behind progression to polydrug use, and perhaps weening off one onto another. Until the rats spend 100% of their time in the 'novelty' chamber I don't see any application.
  3. beena
    hmmm, food for thought ^ ... when SWIM first met her boyfriend he was trying to come off a ten year crack problem and he was mainly doing it by taking ecstacy. Whereas most pill-heads use at the weekend (the whole 'loved up in a club' thing), he was using every single night down his local boozer. Nevertheless, in the 10 years that SWIM has been with him, that period of him using ex. in place of crack was the most successful period of abstinence from cocaine he's ever had.
    SWIM thinks it probably is possible though to change your life so completely and fill it with new activities, rather than use drugs. It must take a helluva lot of willpower and resolve though and the person would have to really want to give up drugs. It's really a case of visualising how you'd want your life to be if you weren't using and then really go for it: do everything you think you'd want to do. For example last time SWIM came off drugs she took up Tai Chi and Qi Gong. She also joined the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) with the intention of going to meetings and getting more involved in campaigning for what she believes in, ie socialism. This was a positive start but SWIM's resolve wasn't steadfast enough and she gave in to temptation and used. Once she started using everything went to the wall: she didn't feel like going out and doing all the stuff she'd intended to do. Ok, so this is an example of it not working and nine times out of ten, for most addicts who try it this way that is, it probably fails. Like SWIM said it's really, really hard to do. But SWIM reckons if her inner strength had been greater and perhaps if she'd thrown herself into more activities then maybe it could've worked. Well, SWIM has to think that way anyway, for her own peace of mind: she has to believe it is possible - otherwise she would cry!
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