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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

New Prescriptions for Addiction Treatment

New prescriptions are making it easier to kick old drug addiction habits and stay clean.
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Addiction Treatment: Treating Alcoholism the New Way continued...

"When used in alcohol addiction, naloxone reduces cravings and diminishes the length of time alcohol is used while increasing the length of time an abstinent person might remain abstinent, " says Marc Galanter, MD, director of the division of alcohol and substance abuse at NYU Medical Center/Bellevue in New York.

Now joining naloxone in the fight is the drug Campral, approved by the FDA in August 2004. Galanter says it works much the same way as naloxone to stimulate the reward centers of the brain -- in this instance, by elevating levels of a brain chemical known as GABA. This, he says, reduces the need for alcohol without activating the numbing effects patients normally get from drinking.

"Research has shown that if you give [Campral] and naloxone together you can get an even better and more enhanced effect with somewhat better outcomes," says Galanter. Though not specifically approved for the use of alcohol addiction, Galanter adds that at least two other medications are being used effectively -- the epilepsy drug Topamax and the muscle relaxant Baclofen. Both are also undergoing testing as treatments for addiction to cocaine, heroin, and other opiates as well.

The Cutting Edge: The Addiction Vaccine

Experts say one reason almost any kind of drug addiction maintains such a strong hold on its victim has to do with not only the direct effects on the body, but also the somewhat indelible impression these substances make on our brain.

More specifically, imaging tests show that when exposure to drugs occurs with any kind of consistency, certain environmental and emotional cues associated with drug use become encoded in our psyche -- so much so that for some folks undergoing addiction treatment, even limited exposure to those original cues can activate a craving that causes a relapse. This, say experts, is particularly true of cocaine addiction, where the risk of falling off the treatment wagon can be quite high.

One way around the problem -- an "addiction vaccine" -- is a new way of helping to "cushion" the fall and keep relapses from overtaking treatment successes.

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