Despite a wide range of clinical treatments for drug addiction, recovering addicts are still expected to relapse more than 50 percent of the time. In a study published in Science last week, researchers led by Lin Lu of the National Institute of Drug Dependence at Peking University in Beijing tested a novel method for altering memories of drug use in addicts that didn’t require the use of pharmaceuticals and which reduced drug cravings up to 6 months later.
The method, which was also tested in rats, involved first showing heroin addicts a 5-minute video of drug paraphernalia and people doing heroin—during which time memories of drug use are retrieved from long-term storage, making them more prone to alteration. After a 10-minute break, the group was again exposed to the video for an hour. This second exposure, researchers believe, consolidates a new memory of drug use that does not associate the drug-related images with the feeling of getting high. The procedure reduced drug cravings in both rats and humans.
The findings suggest that treating drug addicts at the level of drug memories may serve as a safe and effective alternative to addiction drugs. Researchers have yet to determine whether it will yield positive results out in the real world, however, Nature reported.