As the proportion of U.S. workers testing positive for illegal drugs approaches five percent, attention has turned to an unlikely drug that shows promise for curbing substance addiction. The use of medication to treat addicts is nothing new, but isradipine, the drug in question, is primarily a treatment for high blood pressure.
Breaking the chain of triggers
The medical community once considered addiction simply a matter of willpower, but today it’s regarded as a result of rewired brain circuits. Encounters with people, places and sounds associated with the addictive substance can trigger a relapse that threatens successful recovery.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study in which rats addicted to cocaine or alcohol were conditioned to associate either a black or white room with their corresponding substance. When given a choice of which room to enter, the rats invariably chose the one related to their substance.
During one of the tests, a group of rats received a high dose of isradipine before choosing their room. They still chose the linked room on that occasion but on later days they displayed no preference, while the control group that was untreated showed no change in behavior.
How isradipine blocks addiction cues
Isradipine controls blood pressure by blocking calcium channels in the heart and blood vessels. These same channels exist in the brain, and researchers believe that blocking them rewires circuits to eliminate the subconscious memories connecting sensory cues with the addictive substance.
Since isradipine is already FDA-approved as safe for humans, clinical trials can be conducted fairly quickly. One stumbling block may be the necessity to pair it with another drug to prevent dangerous drops in blood pressure.
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