Memory Manipulation to Help Kick Heroin

By Valerie Tejeda 04/13/12

Researchers claim they can disassociate drug use from getting high, using principles of classical conditioning.

New techniques could help addicts
eliminate relapse triggers.
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Manipulating addicts' memories may be a way to treat drug addiction with out pharmaceuticals, according to a new study published in the journal Science. The research—built on an earlier study from New York University—focused on a simple behavioral procedure that reduced the cravings of heroin addicts and may even prevent relapse. "We used a very simple classical conditioning paradigm in which a blue square was paired with a mild electric shock to the wrist," said lead researcher Liz Phelps. The participants then associated the blue square with the shocks, which would lead to a fearful response when looking at the square. After the classic conditioning sessions, the participants were then shown the square with out receiving any shocks, this is called extinction procedures. "We did the extinction training during reconsolidation, and what seems to have happened is that we somehow updated the old fear memory," says Phelps. "In those particular subjects we didn't see any evidence of the fear memory returning. We brought the subjects back a year later and showed that the fear did not come back in the group that got extinction during reconsolidation." The results of the study show that the memory retrieval-extinction procedure could be a non-pharmacological method for tackling drug addiction and preventing relapse, which helped the development of a new procedure in development that, like extinguishing the blue square's fear response, will eliminate the association of  paraphernalia and its usage with a high.

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Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including but not limited to: VanityFair, MTV, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, She Knows, Latina, The Fix,, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Valerie on Linkedin and Twitter.