Can High Blood Pressure Meds Prevent Alcohol and Drug Relapse?

By Paul Gaita 07/02/15

Researchers found that a dose of isradipine could possibly eliminate psychological cravings.

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Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have reported success in reversing the habits of addiction to cocaine or alcohol with the help of an FDA-approved drug for high blood pressure.

Their findings, published in Molecular Psychiatry, reveal that the drug isradipine, which is approved for use with high blood pressure patients and marketed under the name DynaCirc, also proved effective in rewiring the brains of test subject rats with addictions to cocaine or alcohol. The long-term potential for these tests is a possible means for addicted individuals to avoid relapse.

The focus of the study was to address the environmental cues that can trigger a relapse of addictive habits. People, locations, and even sights and sounds experienced by an addict may create unconscious memories that, when exposed to those environments, could train the brain to expect their drug of choice and trigger a relapse.

“Addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned,” said study author Hitoshi Morikawa. “This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted.” Isradipine, along with other blood pressure or hypertensive medication, blocks an ion channel, or cell membrane, found in certain cells in the heart, blood, and brain.

In the study, researchers conditioned the test rats to associate either a black or white room with the use of a particular drug. Those rats that developed an addiction to that drug almost always chose the room linked to their particular habit.

When researchers administered the rats with a dose of isradipine prior to choosing a room, they found that the animals chose the rooms associated with their addictions on the first day, but showed no preference for either room on subsequent days. The researchers concluded that by blocking an ion channel in the brain, the drug not only suppressed the triggering addiction memories but could possibly remove them from the brain entirely.

Morikawa and his team believe that use of isradipine may prove useful in removing the mental cravings experienced by addicts, and noted that because isradipine is already approved by the FDA, clinical trials may be able to start more quickly than other experimental drugs. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.