U of Guelph study suggests new way to treat drug addiction

A pint of beer and a cigarette

by Graeme McNaughton  Guelph Mercury

A new study at the University of Guelph suggests there could be a new way to deal with the challenge of overcoming addictions.

Recently published in the academic journal Learning & Memory, the study found just how much someone’s surroundings can impact their ability to stop using an addictive substance.

Francesco Leri, a psychology professor at the university and one of the study’s co-authors, tells the Mercury Tribune that the study revealed how the brain links a person’s surroundings with the drugs they are dependent on.

Leri says several studies have been done where a drug — in this case nicotine or cocaine — is given to lab rats while they are simultaneously shown an object, and the rat will have a better time remembering that object, sometimes days later.

What the study Leri conducted found was that the brain would react the same way as if the animal had been given a drug when reintroduced into the same environment.

“Rather than giving them the drug itself, we put the animals in the boxes where they had received, in the past, cocaine or nicotine,” he says.

“It essentially gave us the same result as giving them the drug itself.”

So what does this mean?

Being exposed to a certain environment — for example, a favourite spot to have a cigarette — can have a physical effect on the part of the brain where memories are processed.

“(Drugs) create very strong memories. By having strong memories, you have behaviours that are guided by these memories, and some of these behaviours are muscle memories,” he says.

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