Blood Pressure Drug to Fight Cocaine Addiction

Blood Pressure Drug to Fight Cocaine Addiction

The search for effective treatment of cocaine addiction could finally be taking a hopeful turn according to a research study recently published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. The study gives hope to those working with coke addicts because until now FDA-approved medications addressed only the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.

As a result, it’s not uncommon for cocaine addicts to relapse within six months of treatment. Hope may be found in the form of a drug called Propranolol, currently prescribed for treatment of hypertension and anxiety but with promising results in animal-addiction models.

Researchers Devin Meuller and James Otis, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee followed the behavior of addicted rats given the drug propranolol in order to see if it could diminish the memory associations between cocaine and environment. Propranolol has been experimented with in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for this same effect. In both cases the patient is influenced by powerful memories triggered by environmental stimuli.

In this study, rats were injected with cocaine in a particular cage & location until they learned to associate the environment with the drug high. At this point some of the rats were given propranolol and others given saline and then observed to determine if there existed a continued preference for cages with drug associations over cages without previous drug experiences. Results recorded that rats injected with propranolol failed to exhibit a preference for the cage with drug associations while the rats receiving saline continued to prefer the cage where cocaine had been administered. Furthermore, the drug’s effect appeared to last over a two week period indicating to researchers that the medication had affected memory.

Apart from the drugs currently used to treat symptoms of cocaine withdrawal the most common treatment for cocaine abuse recovery is ‘exposure therapy’ in which the patient is repeatedly exposed to the environmental stimuli which trigger drug cravings. Over time, as the patient is exposed to the stimuli without satisfaction of the drug hunger, the association weakens and the inducements to relapse diminish. The treatment has shown a limited amount of success to date. However, Dr Meuller postulates that the combination of exposure therapy with administering of propranolol could prove to be a highly effective treatment. Memories associated with a patient’s prior cocaine habit are considered to be the major cause of relapse. A treatment which addresses those memories behaviorally and pharmacologically could enhance the success rate.

Just how propranolol actually works in the brain remains uncertain. It does seem that the drug, while not completely erasing memories, somehow lessens the pleasurable associations the memory invokes. Dr Meuller believes that propranolol’s effects could prove to be permanent without requiring repeated dosages. There is much that bears further study, but the high blood pressure drug propranolol is giving hope to those seeking more effective treatment for cocaine addicts.

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