“It has been very difficult to reduce heroin-seeking and-taking in an animal model because heroin is such an addictive drug, but the results here are very impressive. This is the type of preclinical evidence that one needs, in order to start testing this strategy in humans.”
~ Dr. Olivier George, Associate Professor, Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, Scripps Research Institute
Heroin is considered to be one of the most-addictive drugs on the planet. Over 90% of addicts relapse, most during their first week of sobriety. In fact, 80% of heroin addicts will relapse within a month of leaving a detox facility.
In 2017, an estimated 15,446 Americans died of a heroin overdose. To give that number perspective, in 2012, there were “only” 5,925 such deaths—an increase of 261%.
Of even more concern, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that the number of heroin deaths may in fact be underreported by as much as 30%.
Easing Heroin Cravings—New Hope on the Horizon?
Now, a recent study published in Neuropsychopharmocology reveals that deep brain stimulation—electrical stimulation of a specific region of the brain—appears to reduce cravings for heroin. DBS has been used to treat Parkinson’s disease, movement disorders, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Laboratory rats were allowed to self-administer heroin over a two-week time period. Invariably the rats would show signs of addiction and up their consumption. Even after a two-week abstinence period, the rats would quickly “relapse” and amp up their heroin intake again.
Dr. George said, “It’s like a human drug user who goes into rehab for two weeks, and then comes back into the real world where he has access to the drug, and starts taking more and more again.”
However, those lab rats that received DBS did NOT increase their heroin consumption following the clean period. Pointedly, once the DBS was discontinued, the drug intake went up yet again. Dr. George likened it to “an on-off switch”.
Still a Ways Off
As encouraging as this may sound, it does not signal a cure for heroin addiction.
- Human tests have not been conducted.
- DBS is associated with serious health risks, including infection, cognitive dysfunction, hypersexuality, and stroke. It is believed these can be controlled with a lower voltage.
- DBS reduces cravings, but does not address the underlying psychosocial factors that contribute to substance abuse.
It is important to understand that addiction is a complex disease with many causal elements, and there is no “magic therapy” that will work 100% of the time for everyone. The most effective way to truly recover is through approved, evidence-based treatment strategies, including counseling, medication, and lifestyle changes.
If you are ready to get the treatment and support you need, Lasting Recovery outpatient drug rehab in San Diego can help.
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