Video Helps Diminish drug Cravings

   Watching a five-minute video can help whitewash memories of past drug use
in former heroin addicts and ease their cravings, a new study shows. By weakening
mental ties between drug-related paraphernalia and the desire to use, the
method may be a powerful and longlasting way to help people struggling
with addiction stay clean.
“The process is really simple,” says study coauthor David Epstein of the
National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore. “But it’s based on some really
important ideas.”
The method, described in the April 13 Science, seems to work by dampening
the association between using a drug and cues that remind someone of using.
Walking by a familiar corner where a dealer works or bumping into an old
friend from drug-using days, for example, can be hard for people battling addiction.
Led by neuroscientist Lin Lu of Peking University in China, researchers first
tested the idea in animals, easing drugseeking behaviors in rats by calling up
and then dampening drug-related memories.
Next, the team turned to people who were battling heroin addiction in China.
Sixty-six people underwent a twostep process: First, volunteers watched
a video of either a natural scene or of people smoking and injecting heroin.
The heroin movie served as a quick reminder, calling up former memories of
drug use. Each time such memories are called to mind, the former drug users’
memories become fragile, vulnerable to being rewritten or modified, Epstein
says. “It’s not like a tape recorder playing something back,” he says. “It’s more
like a computer pulling up a document, potentially editing the document, and
then resaving the document.” This process is called reconsolidation.
After this reminder, participants spent an hour watching more drugrelated
movies and slide shows, and even handling fake heroin, a trial called
an “extinction session.” The researchers varied the time between the reminder
and the extinction sessions: Some people waited just 10 minutes, and others
waited six hours. This process was repeated on two consecutive days.
In later tests, people whose memories were primed with the drug reminder 10
minutes before extinction reported less craving for heroin after seeing drug cues
one, 30 and 180 days after the extinction session. Bodily responses to drug cues
were blunted, too: People who had been primed in the 10-minute window showed
less of a blood pressure rise in response to seeing drug paraphernalia than people
who hadn’t received the reminder. “What was just so striking about the
human data was how persistent the effects were,” says neuroscientist Jane
Taylor of the Yale School of Medicine. People who waited six hours before
undergoing the extinction didn’t get the same effect. The results suggest that
there’s something important happening in the window right after the reminder.
“I think it’s a very interesting, very intriguing set of data,” says psychologist
Stephen Tiffany of the University at Buffalo in New York. It remains to be
seen whether the effects persist in people’s real lives, outside of the lab, he says,
and what relationship may exist between drug craving and drug relapse.

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