The brain is an incredibly complex organ that science is only just beginning to understand. One study seeks to understand the role the brain plays in the maintenance of addiction and how to pinpoint interventions on to neuro-chemical responses. The researchers studied the development of cocaine craving in the brains of rats and have found an interesting brain response.
A New Discovery
When exposed to cocaine, they found that the rats’ brains underwent changes which increased cravings after discontinuation of the drug. This process involved the maturation of certain synapses in the brain, so-called “silent synapses.” These synapses had not been active prior to the introduction of cocaine. A short time after cocaine exposure, these synapses became active and underwent a maturation process resulting in the rats developing a craving for more cocaine. These cravings were only stimulated when the rats were exposed to environmental cues previously associated with cocaine use. What researchers have found, however, is that there is also a reversal of the maturation process occurring, whereby the brain also seems to be trying to reverse the process that leads to the increase in craving from the previously silent synapses. In effect, these synapses are also developing the opposite of a craving response. The process of increase in craving and also of decrease in craving occurs in parallel around 45 days after the last use of cocaine.
What Does This Mean?
This suggests that the brain has a natural means of actually reversing the effects of addiction. Researchers are very keen to understand how this occurs, and to see if it can be recreated by artificial means. This process has been called the Yin and Yang of the addiction response, or a sort of “push-pull” effect. So, while the brain may be developing chemical pathways that increase the likelihood of someone becoming addicted, it may have a natural tendency to heal itself from addiction. For now, more research is required to further investigate this anti-addiction response. It would be interesting to see if there were ways that this anti-addiction response could be recreated and used in treatment interventions. However, as with many other addiction studies, there’s isn’t a clear answer just yet as there are many factors at play during its development and sustenance as well as during a person’s recovery. These include factors like the brain in itself, one’s socioeconomic status, trauma history, individual temperament, and access to both addictive substances and to treatment facilities.