Erasing memories associated to cocaine reduces drug-seeking behaviour

on 25 January 2019
erasing memories of addiction

The brain has a duty of care to protect us but that only works when things are going well. When we are chronically stressed, the brain malfunctions and, unfortunately; so do we . . . 

Is thinking occasionally and hallucinatory process?

It is often the feeling that life isn't what we think it should be, those "there's something missing, why am I here, what's it all about" etc. that leads people to experiment with drugs. Many, naively believe they can control the drug and won't become addicted. Sadly such thinking is all too human and, way too conscious! When you artificially stimulate the brain, you unwittingly defer your processes to a higher power, not the divine type, but, rather the neurological type. The brain, for the most part, runs you but conscious thinking and awareness allows us to believe otherwise. For sure we do have some say in what we do but the unique ways in which our brain is wired, to a certain degree, predetermine what we like, hate and are indifferent to. Essentially we are partly stimulus-response mechanisms. If we like something, we do it and if we do not like it, we don't. Of course, there are levels of awareness that have varying effects on the vagueness and uncertainty of life and generally speaking, vagueness, ambiguity and uncertainty are the prerequisites of what we know as anxiety.

Humans have been suffering from anxiety and stress for thousands of years but in the past, fear was the primary motivator of human behaviour, at least, relevant to survival. In that context modern life appears to be somewhat different, in that many of the fears we experience are not reality-based, they don't actually represent a real threat to our survival. The mechanism behind this evolves from a part of the extended amygdala, the BNST (bed nucleus of the stria terminalis), this part of the fear system is initiated by uncertainty, whereas the activation of the amygdala itself is in relation to certainty, i.e. threats to our survival that are known or perceived as real. When faced with a real threat though, the two systems, the BNST and amygdala are active and during the process of this, emotional memories are created, i.e. memories of both, that which is real and that which is not so certain.

When it comes to drug relapse there is a double whammy, in that the brain's function can be altered, making it more dependent on the drug of choice or availability. So, I would imagine, the longer someone has been free of drugs and to the degree that the brain has restored as much of its normal function as possible, the greater the chances of their maintaining a drug-free life. However, the others, the ones that return to drugs, it's sometimes not just as simple as avoiding certain stimulus, although that will of course help, it's more to do with the damage that has been done to their brain, coupled with the intensity and connections that their memories have created. It is in this vein that this research has highlighted the potential benefits of targeting specific memories. Essentially this can be achieved through memory reconsolidation and hypnotherapy has an excellent record in reconsolidating memories.

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote clear thinking and good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of too much stress, too little sleep and too little by way of clarity! So, to get or take back control of your mind and your life, it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious mind's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous states of mind. Hypnosis helps us to create calm relaxing states of mind that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to make your life feel better,  then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life! 

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here or to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Forty to 60 per cent of all people treated for substance use disorders relapse, presenting a major challenge to treatment success. New research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows that disrupting memories that associate environmental cues with drug use significantly reduce drug-seeking behaviours in rats, opening a potential avenue for developing more effective therapies to prevent relapse.

Since Pavlov discovered classical conditioning in dogs in the 1890s, it has long been recognized that the brain associates specific cues with behaviours, like the smell of freshly brewed coffee making you want to drink a cup, or the sight of a snake inducing a heightened fear response. Breaking the links between cues and memories is a well-known strategy in treating phobias, addiction and PTSD.

But this method -- commonly known as 'exposure therapy' -- is not very effective at treating addiction. The reason? Context matters. While exposure therapy might have some effect in a controlled setting such as a doctor's or therapist's office, the moment a person suffering from addiction is faced with the cue in the outside world, the brain fires off the same neurons connected to drug-seeking behaviour.

"While we've always known that the brain forms these cue-associated memories, the specific circuits have never been clearly identified," said Mary Torregrossa, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at Pitt's School of Medicine and senior author of the study, published today in Cell Reports. "We've found a central piece in the cue-memory puzzle, and we also show that taking out that piece in a substance use scenario can help reverse relapse-like behaviours."

In the study, the scientists used a rat model of cue-associated relapse. When rats pressed a lever, they received an infusion of cocaine, accompanied by a tone and a light. With training, the rats learned to associate the audiovisual cue with the cocaine high, and exhibited drug-seeking behaviour analogous to a craving, repeatedly pressing the lever.

The researchers also simulated exposure therapy in the rats, showing that repeatedly playing the tone and light without providing the cocaine infusion eventually reduced drug-seeking behaviour. But much like in humans, exposure therapy in the rats did not work well if they were placed in a different environment.

Using electrical recordings from rat brain tissue, Torregrossa and her team first showed that connections between the medial geniculate nucleus -- the brain's switchboard for sound -- and the lateral amygdala are important for forming memories that associate the cocaine high with external cues.

"It made sense to us because the amygdala is where emotional memories are formed," said Matthew Rich, a graduate student in Torregrossa's lab and the first author of the study. "It receives sensory input and associates that input with what we feel when the cues are presented to us."

To show a causal connection between these cue-associated memories and drug-seeking behaviour, the researchers used a technique known as optogenetics, where light pulses are used to control genetically modified cells, to control the neurons from the previous experiment. Rats that had the cocaine-cue memories optogenetically erased pressed the lever significantly fewer times when the light and tone cue was played.

Importantly, the reduced relapse behaviour persisted even when the rats were placed in a different environment, suggesting that eliminating cue-associated memories overcomes the relapse-inducing effects of a new environment.

"In the long term, these findings may help us develop drugs or approaches like deep brain stimulation to specifically target these memories strengthened by substance use and improve the success of exposure therapy to prevent relapse," said Torregrossa.

Yanhua Huang, PhD, of Pitt, was an additional author on this study.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health grants K01DA031745, R01DA042029, DA035805, F31DA039646, T32031111, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Story Source:

Materials provided by the University of PittsburghNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew T. Rich, Yanhua H. Huang, Mary M. Torregrossa. Plasticity at Thalamo-amygdala Synapses Regulates Cocaine-Cue Memory Formation and ExtinctionCell Reports, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.12.105

Cite This Page:

The University of Pittsburgh. "Erasing memories associated with cocaine use reduces drug-seeking behaviour." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2019. <>.