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Hypertension drug propanolol supported for treating cocaine addiction

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cocaine addiction treatment

Study supports using propanolol for cocaine addiction

A common prescription drug - propanolol - used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety and migraine headaches, shows promise for helping individuals with cocaine addiction. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) researchers found the medication, known as a beta-blocker, stops the brain from remembering addiction to the drug.

Cocaine addiction is difficult to treat because of the way it affects the brain. Relapse is common. To date, there are no pharmacologic treatments for addiction to the drug.

According to Devin Mueller, UWM assistant professor of psychology and a co-author with James Otis of the research, propanolol is the first medication found to block memory retrieval in the brain associated with the addiction. The medication has been found to help with withdrawal symptoms for cocaine addicts, leading the researchers to further explore its effect on memory.

“Right now, there are no FDA-approved medications that are known to successfully treat cocaine abuse,” says Mueller, “only those that are used to treat the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, which are largely ineffective at preventing relapse.”

Mueller explains propanolol could be an adjunct to currently used 'exposure therapy', used to treat anxiety, PTSD and other problematic behaviors by exposing patients to the offending stimulus. Over time, exposure therapy for addiction "retrains" the brain to dissociate drugs with pleasure.

Propanolol effects long-lasting

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According to the study authors, propanolol had a long lasting effect for blocking memories associated with cocaine addiction. In the study, the scientists confirmed beta receptor cell stimulation drives cocaine addiction. The drug propanolol blocks that action.

"When administered before a CPP [conditioned place preference] trial, propranolol, but not saline, prevented retrieval of a cocaine-associated CPP. In subsequent drug-free trials, rats previously treated with propranolol continued to show a retrieval deficit, as no CPP was evident. This retrieval deficit was long lasting and robust."

A recent study from University of Chicago Medical Center shows nicotine 'hijacks' brain circuitry in the same way as cocaine, leading to addiction.

The study is published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. The authors concluded their study findings "support the use of propanolol" for treating cocaine addiction", in conjunction with other therapies. The study suggests the beta-blocker would prevent relapse. Mueller notes the effects seen in the studies were permanent.

Neuropsychopharmacology 36, 1912-1920 (August 2011) | doi:10.1038/npp.2011.77
"Inhibition of β-Adrenergic Receptors Induces a Persistent Deficit in Retrieval of a Cocaine-Associated Memory Providing Protection against Reinstatement"
James M Otis and Devin Mueller

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